I am a shellfish biologist in La Conner, Washington, for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. Washington state is unique in that the Native American tribes have the right to take up to 50% of the harvestable fisheries resources, which results in a tribal co-management role with the state and the right to regulate tribal fisheries. I conduct surveys of wild clam populations within the tribe's usual and accustomed fishing grounds to estimate biomass, suggest sustainable quotas, and co-manage the resulting clam fisheries. I am also collaborating with other scientists on a native oyster restoration project, a shoreline armoring effects project, and a decadal study of intertidal ecology. The tribe's commercial geoduck fishery is also an important component of my job; I serve as the coordinator of the dive fishery and I'm the diving safety officer for the divers. I spend a lot of time working strange hours during the low tides or working directly with fishermen on their boats. Like most biologists, I also work in the office conducting statistical analyses, writing reports and strategizing management policies with the tribe's fisheries managers.
Like many prospective marine biologists, I began my college years determined to make a career out of studying whales. That all changed the instant I took a fascinating invertebrates course taught by Dr. Larry Harris at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). I discovered that, unlike cetaceans, many marine invertebrates are easy to find, fun to study, and excellent subjects for quantitative experiments in biology, ecology, behavior, physiology, etc. After discovering the huge world of invertebrates, I never looked back at vertebrates again! Another major turning point in my career development was a decision to take SCUBA courses at UNH. It didn't take me very long to figure out that I could make a career out of diving and marine science, as the two fields are inevitably compatible. Immediately after graduating, I was selected as the 1999 Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society Scholar. This year-long fellowship introduced me to many remarkable underwater researchers and helped me get my foot in the door for the jobs I held in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, the Mass. Division of Marine Fisheries, and my current job in Washington.
My current job is very diverse, which suits me because I thrive off of juggling many tasks at the same time; plus, I love working with clams and crabs! One particularly satisfying aspect of my job is when I am able to apply my knowledge in science and research to answering questions and solving problems involving the tribe's fisheries. I also value the chance I have to work across the board with scientists and fishermen on management issues. Finally, nothing is more satisfying than successfully completing a day of both physically and mentally demanding fieldwork.
What is there to dislike? This career is awesome. But I was never a fan of dealing with tedious (but necessary) permitting paperwork; luckily I don't have to do that often in my current job.
My husband Jay and I take advantage of every weekend to get outside and play in the Pacific Northwest. We are avid sea kayakers, hikers, skiers, photographers, mushroom foragers and birders. Back at home I love to cook, brew beer, read, knit and attempt gardening (this usually results in failure). And after a long office day, swimming is almost a requirement for my ability to relax once I'm home.
My husband, Jay Dimond, is an incredible scientist with fantastic and innovative ideas that he sees through to completion. He is a great role model for students (and me!) and I hope that they follow the hard-working example he sets. I have also learned much about unconditional love, generosity and support from my mother, father, sister, sister-in-law and nephews. Finally, I look up to scientists who step outside of their lab, like Dr. Sylvia Earle, to educate others about the importance of protecting the marine environment.
Choose a career for love of the job, not for love of money. Happiness is far easier to find when your career is fun rather than mundane. My other major piece of advice would be to avoid going straight to graduate school after finishing your undergraduate degree. Head out into the world, get a job in your field, and learn as much as you can from the people you work with. Ideally, broaden your horizons and try living in a different state or country -- learn about different ecosystems -- this will make you a better candidate for jobs! If you decide an advanced degree will help you in your career choice, you will know when you are ready to go back to graduate school. But with your expanded background, you will begin that schooling with far more experience than students who walked straight from their B.S. to graduate school.
I'd say that opportunities may be staying the same in the field of fisheries science. I see biologists retiring fairly often, which opens up opportunities for new fisheries biologists to move in and up the career ladder. That said, funding for science or fisheries management is not always at the top of the list for governments (state or federal), thus I haven't seen many new jobs being created. Native American tribes, however, seem to be creating more jobs for biologists and they are fantastic employers.
Hopefully still working as a fisheries biologist! Ideally, I'll always have a job that involves lots of field work with fun critters, collaborations with fishermen and/or other scientists, and meaningful decision-making that benefits the long-term sustainability of fishing and marine ecosystems.