Charles Klingler, from Maryland, US, works as a fisheries observer in various locations around the USA. He’s spent four months interning with us at Oceans Research in South Africa, so we took the opportunity to interview him about fisheries observation and management. Charles also delivered a presentation on fisheries management at a public ocean conservation evening while he was in South Africa.
- Where did you graduate from, and what is your degree?
I graduated from Coastal Carolina University in May 2014, with a degree in Marine Science with a focus in Marine Biology.
- How did you get into fisheries observation?
I discovered it while searching for marine biology related jobs on the Internet. I later learned that some of my fellow marine science majors were considering it, and I decided to apply for it.
- How long have you been a fisheries observer?
I started my first contract in June 2014, and I have done a total of six contracts, the last one ending in August 2016. A contract lasts anywhere from 2-3 months.
- Do your findings feed into fisheries management?
The data that observers collect is essential for fisheries managers to set the right quotas for the fishing industry and to monitor fish stocks to ensure that target species and bycatch species aren’t being overfished. Since observers are collecting real-time data, it is possible for the monitors to be quickly alerted to any potential changes in the estimated fish populations. It also allows for immediate action to be taken if serious violations occur.
- How important do you think observation is for conservation?
I think that fisheries observation is very important for conservation. Overfishing is one of the largest threats facing many fish species, and only by having effective regulations in place can fish stocks and bycatch species recover. Having independent observers is the best way to ensure that regulations are being followed by the fishermen, and it is a very good way to collect data on species that are caught by fishermen, so we can learn more about fished species and more effectively manage them.
- Have you witnessed any prohibited activity?
The only violations I have witnessed have been minor ones. The worst violation was a case of improper handling of Pacific halibut, a species that the trawlers frequently catch. Now, the trawlers are not permitted to keep halibut, and the regulations state that if they catch halibut they must release it alive if possible. The rules state that the fishermen are not permitted to lift halibut by the tail, as this can injure the fish. I saw one of the processors doing this, and I informed the captain and my advisor about it. This is not a serious violation, but it is in the regulations, and by reporting on the little things, over time it improves the regulatory behavior of the fishing boats.
- Which fishing method have you observed to amass the least bycatch?
The method that has the least bycatch in the Alaska fisheries is pelagic trawling for Alaska pollock. Since pollock swim in massive schools, it is relatively easy for fishing vessels to target them using sonar. Pollock schools are very homogeneous, and as a result the bycatch rate is usually very low.
- Do you think that fisheries observation should be a requirement for every commercial fishing vessel?
I absolutely believe that fisheries observers should be on every commercial fishing vessel. The regulations for the different fisheries throughout the world obviously need to vary depending on the species and fishing method, but having observers is the best way to ensure that the rules are being followed. It also allows for real-time data to be collected on fish species, which is an important part of crafting effective fisheries management policies.
- How will you utilise your experience with Oceans Research into current your work?
I believe that I can use the knowledge that I have learned at Oceans Research to properly educate people about how certain species, like sharks, are overfished, and how important fisheries management is to ensure that we have both healthy ocean ecosystems and sustainable fisheries.
- Has your time with Oceans Research helped with your future goals?
The experiences that I have gained with Oceans Research, as well as the people that I have connected with, will be a great asset for when I continue with my marine biology career.
- Have the four months you spent here been repetitive or did you benefit from all of it?
Even though I have been doing mostly the same shifts over these last four months, I never felt that it was repetitive. I was still learning new things and applying things that I had already learned.
- What is the most valuable aspect of the Oceans Research internship for any budding fisheries management students?
This internship gives you some field experience which allows you to learn sampling techniques. You also get a lot of boat experience, which is essential when you are working on commercial fishing boats.
- Would you recommend the internship to future or current biologists?
I absolutely would recommend the Oceans Research internship to anyone who is interested in the ocean. The experiences that you gain and the people that you meet are truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.