Office of the Director: Gil McRae

Gil McRae is the current Director of the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

Degrees / Certifications
B.S.
Natural Resources, University of Michigan
M.S. Fisheries Science, University of Minnesota
Additional Postgraduate Work-North Carolina State University

 

Experience
I earned my bachelor's degree in Natural Resources, with a concentration in aquatic ecology, from the University of Michigan. Immediately following graduation, I accepted an internship with the U.S. Forest Service in Rifle, Colorado, where I did field work on a variety of projects, including a bighorn sheep survey, vegetation mapping, and fisheries habitat enhancement in high altitude rivers and streams. Following my time out west, I was awarded an internship with the International Joint Commission (a unit of the U.S. State Department) in Windsor, Ontario. I obtained this internship through a program now known as the Environmental Careers Organization (www.eco.org). During three internship years in Ontario, I worked on Great Lakes water quality and fisheries issues. I then moved on to the University of Minnesota as a master's student in fisheries science with a minor in statistics.

My master's thesis focused on the thermal effects of beaver ponds on headwater trout streams in Northern Wisconsin. I actually got to dynamite several beaver dams as part of my study. Hauling explosives in a backpack through several miles of dense woods was a bit unnerving! While completing my master's thesis, I accepted a position with Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) in Duluth, Minnesota. At that time, CSC was contracted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop the Great Lakes EMAP (Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program) project. I assisted in statistical design and planning for this ongoing study.

After Duluth, I served a short stint as a fisheries biologist for the U.S. Forest Service in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, working again on headwater trout streams in National Forests. After a year or so, I wanted to explore returning to school for a Ph.D. in quantitative fisheries ecology. I decided on the Ph.D. program offered by the Zoology department at North Carolina State University. During the program, I became involved in marine issues and worked on a project known as the South Atlantic Bight Recruitment Experiment (SABRE). My component of the project focused on movement of larval menhaden into North Carolina rivers.

When my son was born, I left the program for an Associate Research Scientist position with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Florida Marine Research Institute (FWC-FMRI), where I worked on an EMAP project that focused on Florida's Atlantic coast. After about 18 months, I accepted an FMRI Research Scientist position in the Fisheries Stock Assessment group, where I developed fisheries stock assessments for several Atlantic Coast species. Less than two years later, I was promoted to the position of Research Administrator II for FMRI's Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration section. There I oversaw the seagrass, aquatic health, red tide, and coral reef programs. I also helped develop the program known as IMAP (Inshore Marine Monitoring and Assessment Program), which was funded by the EPA for a five-year period. When the former director, Ken Haddad, became Executive Director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in May 2002, I was promoted to the position of Director of FWC-FMRI.

 

What are you working on now?
As director of FMRI, I oversee approximately 480 staff members at 13 locations throughout the state. My responsibilities can be broken down into five main areas:

1) Program leadership
2) Budget oversight
3) Legislative activities
4) FWC integration
5) External liaison activities

Program leadership functions are designed to ensure that the institute's science and support efforts are of the highest quality possible, using state-of-the-art techniques and equipment, and focused on critical management questions. Budget oversight duties focus on cost-effective allocation and associated tracking and accountability of FMRI's approximately $31 million annual budget. As director, I am a registered lobbyist for FWC and make frequent trips to Tallahassee to present FMRI scientific results, justify our budget requests, and make new budget requests to legislative committees and individual legislators. While legislative issues can crop up at any time, my interaction with the legislature is most frequent during the fall and spring of each year, at the beginning of the activities associated with the Florida Legislature's annual session.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meets at least five times each year at various locations. As FMRI director, I attend these meetings and either present material directly to commissioners or support management recommendations made by other FWC Divisions (most commonly the Division of Marine Fisheries) based on data and information generated by FMRI. I also serve as a member of the FWC's Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and Executive Staff. In that role, I coordinate FMRI's activities and plans with other FWC divisions and offices and our executive director. In addition to intra-agency representation, I also serve as a liaison for FWC and FMRI, interacting with numerous partners in state and federal government and the private and nonprofit sectors. As I write this document, I am on a plane headed to Washington, D.C., for a meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). I serve as an ASMFC Commissioner, representing the state of Florida on this multi-state group that sets policy for Atlantic Coast fisheries.

Was work in your current field your original career interest--why or why not?
I actually began my undergraduate education as a civil engineer. While I enjoyed the coursework, I simply did not feel passionate about the work and the long-term prospects of an engineering career. About mid-way through my undergraduate education, I switched to the life sciences and eventually gravitated to a fisheries science focus. The outdoors was a big part of my life growing up, and I spent a great deal of time fishing, hiking, and camping in Michigan. I decided to merge my career and leisure interests as much as I could. However, I did not leave my quantitative side completely. My fisheries work has included a great deal of statistical analyses and mathematical modeling.

I truly love statistics and the usefulness of mathematical techniques in asking and answering detailed questions involving complex data. I am also impatient with bureaucracy and like to see high quality applied science used to address resource issues and enhance our understanding of the natural world-all factors that led me to pursue leadership positions in FMRI. I like to be out in front on controversial, complex issues, and there is no shortage of those when it comes to Florida's coastal and marine ecosystems. I truly enjoy the problem-solving aspects of my job and rely continually on the world-class scientists and staff we are fortunate to have here at FMRI.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?
From a scientific standpoint, I would point to the establishment of the IMAP program and the development of the sampling framework that supports a multiple-indicator statewide assessment capability. The efforts of this program represent the first time that Florida's inshore marine ecosystems have been evaluated using chemical, biological, and physical indicators together on a statewide basis.

As director, I have focused on issues designed to benefit FMRI's staff. Last year, we were granted legislative permission to establish positions with benefits on certain grants, which helped a number of staff members that had been working without insurance benefits.

What do you like most about your career?
I most enjoy the problem solving and applying the latest scientific thinking and state-of-the-art technical approaches to complex natural resource issues. In many of the issues we deal with, we occupy a middle ground between two or more conflicting user groups-our job is to use science to help bring the conflicting groups toward a middle ground. This role can be difficult and challenging, but it is extremely rewarding.

What do you like least about your career?
As an institute operating within a state agency, politics are a part of the workday. The political climate can shift rapidly, and balancing the will of user groups, legislators, and others affected by FWC's management decisions can be difficult.

What are some of your biggest challenges?
It is difficult to balance the ever-increasing need for scientific data and information with the reality of flat or declining budgets to support those activities.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
Leading a large, diverse research institute requires a solid scientific background. It is difficult for leaders to relate to the needs of researchers unless they have had an opportunity to design and conduct research studies of their own. Among the attributes that distinguish good leaders are their people skills and ability to pull together individuals with diverse backgrounds and expertise as a team to address a scientific question. Since we deal with so many complex issues, leaders must have experience as team members and team leaders. If you desire a leadership position, in addition to your academic work, focus on acquiring exceptional people skills and participate on teams.



FWC Facts:
Like a message in a bottle, “Please Release” on an external tag tells anglers that researchers are tracking a fish implanted with an acoustic tag.

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