Ron is the program coordinator for snook in the state of Florida.
B.S. Marine Biology, Auburn University
1977-present Fisheries Biologist, FWRI
1969-1970 Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Advanced Studies, Marine Ichthyology
1968-1969 Auburn University, B.S. Marine Biology
1963-1967 US Army Intelligence Service, Cryptographer
1960-1963 Auburn University
What are you working on now?
I am currently the program coordinator for snook in the state of Florida. We are in the ninth year of a program that collects and analyzes fishery-dependent data. We are spearheading three initiatives that will serve as models for future collection of game fish fishery data: snook angler intercepts, snook logbooks, and snook tournaments. The unique contribution of these data is that for the first time, we will know what proportion of short, legal, and lunker sizes of snook are caught and released. We will also understand the size frequency distribution of the entire catch. We will be able to better predict recruitment of sub-legal snook into the legal slot, simply by knowing how many shorts were caught and released. By knowing how many snook greater than the legal slot-size were released, we will be able to predict the success of closing the slot. We can also develop two independent indices with which to tune the final assessment: a CPUE (catch per unit of effort) and a yearly measure of the magnitude of the harvest.
I am also working on various other projects, which are listed below.
- East Coast Apex Predator Project-Cooperative project between Marine Finfish Biology and Freshwater Fisheries Research looking at the habitat and diet overlap of common snook and largemouth bass in three east coast river; Loxahatchee, St. Lucie, and Sebastian.
- Collecting the smaller snook species for general life history data (lengths, sex, age, spawning condition, etc).
- Collecting genetic information on all species with fin clips.
- Collecting information on movements patterns of common snook, fat snook, and largemouth bass using external dart tags and internal acoustic tags.
- Finishing acoustic project in Caloosahatchee River examining temporal use of the river by common snook in the river. This project has provided some evidence of skip-spawning in snook and was the partial template for the movement part of the east coast acoustic project.
- Examining lengths, sex, and age of snook caught on offshore reefs from fish collected by St. Pete College staff.
Was work in your current field your original career interest; why or why not?
Ever since my father carried me fishing before I was old enough to walk, I always wanted to work with fish and fishing in some capacity. As I grew into a teenager, fishing became an obsession. We'd plan weekend trips to travel a hundred miles to fish in the Alabama River, Henderson Lake, the Chattahoochee River, or catch redfish and trout in Milton or Pace, Florida. We would spend several weeks each summer in Panama City or Ft. Walton, where we always went red snapper fishing, shrimping, or trolling for kingfish. Dad was a master-no, a magician-at catching fish of all species from the local rivers, creeks, and lakes. I grew up eating fresh-prepared bass, brim, catfish, suckers, turtles, and snake. We ate it all! And appreciated it all! Dad was a timber merchant and miller, and whenever we would go to a new area to "cruise the timber," we always carried our fishing gear in hopes there would be a new creek or slough where we could try our luck. Fish are part of my spirit; seawater is in my blood, and its rumored that I have a lateral line down my side.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?
My biggest accomplishment is being a Dad. I'm probably not the best, but my son loves me, and that's all that counts. Professionally, I guess my biggest reward is understanding something about fish reproduction. It is a humbling experience to pass a line through your data and have nature show you one of her secrets. Never forget, what we think is truth or a fact-nature has a way of cloaking our findings in all kinds of variation. That's what our job is as fish scientists-trying to explain as much variation as possible that surrounds a natural system or organism. I guess I'm proud of finding out that snook are protandric hermaphrodites (change sex from male to female). That's a difficult condition to diagnose. It took about seven or eight years to learn enough to ask the proper question, at least question the right way. And I had a lot of help; I didn't do it all by myself. We have always been a team-the snook team. It was Jim Whittington, Harry Grier, Iliana Quintero, Ruth Reese, Scott Willis-all of these people helped me find that secret. I could never have done it alone.
What do you like most about your career?
My favorite part of my career is the healthy exchange among the staff here at FMRI-not only the professional exchange, but the familial espirit 'd corps that exists among us. It's almost like we are brothers and sisters. I dare say that I could approach any one of the several hundred of us and receive the biggest portion of whatever it was that I needed. The old grandmothers keep us all safe! I'm no Philadelphia lawyer, no genius, but there is a respect that I feel as I meet my fellow workers on a day-to-day basis that I bet I could not get anywhere else. In fact, countless friends that have worked here and left for other jobs or opportunities have told me they really miss FMRI and wish they were back with us. You have to have walked in my shoes, understand where I come from-I like where I am. I enjoy my work; I enjoy the people I work with and the people I work for. It's all a blast!
What do you like least about your career?
I don't care for the bureaucracy or the rigidity of some of the rules. They tend to cubbyhole people. It also stifles scientific thought and creativity.
What are some of your biggest challenges?
I think the biggest challenge is to be able to ask the proper question so to arrive at the correct answer. After so many years of studying a single species, snook, one should have all of the answers. No such luck! After the correct question has been proffered, then how does one garner all the answers? Sometimes it is impossible for a single biologist to answer all the questions. It requires a team, and it becomes difficult to know who will find the proper solution and how the proper solution will be found. Thankfully, we have a cadre of intelligent biologists who are willing to share of their talents and stand ready to assist with another's quest.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
Just as it's true for a mathematician, chemist, or microbiologist, education is the knowledge. If anyone reading this is interested in a career as a fishery biologist, botanist, or mammalogist, an advanced degree is almost necessary. In the 21st century, an advanced degree is almost always a prerequisite to advancement or salary increase. Study hard; somehow get comprehension. There are too many of us who read things that we don't understand. University subject matter is a prime example of this. Practice listening; follow instructions, and keep an open mind. Above all else, enjoy yourself. Find something you love and devote yourself to it. If you enjoy pursuit of the subject then poor pay becomes less a disappointment. Look at our office! The bays and oceans, the rivers and bayous. I wouldn't swap a day of my yesterdays for all of the tomorrows!