Marine Fisheries Research: Bob McMichael

Bob developed and runs the Marine Fisheries-Independent Monitoring program, which assesses the status of fish populations from numerous estuarine systems throughout Florida.

Bob McMichaelDegrees
B.S. Biology, Lynchburg College, 1977
M.S. Marine Science, University of Southern Mississippi, 1980

I majored in biology as an undergrad at Lynchburg College (VA). In graduate school, I majored in marine science. My graduate thesis was on the ecology of three species of Menticirrhus (whiting) in the surf zone of a barrier island off the coast of Mississippi.

I started working for the Florida Marine Research Institute (now the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute) right after graduate school. I was assigned a 12-month project in the Florida Keys working on a fish trap project. After completing that project, I was reassigned to St. Petersburg, where I began working on juvenile fish ecology in Tampa Bay. I authored many papers from that work. About 20 years ago I started the fisheries-independent monitoring program and have been running that program ever since.


What are you working on now?
I developed and now run a very large program (over 70 scientific staff members) that involves assessing the status of fish populations from numerous estuarine systems throughout Florida. Fish health investigations, feeding studies, growth rates of fish, and fish habitat studies are a few of the many projects included in these assessments.

Was work in your current field your original career interest; why or why not?
Studying fish and their ecology is what I have always wanted to do. How organisms interact with their environment is very interesting to me. I continue to be surprised as I learn new things. I recently cleaned out my parent's attic and found an autobiography I completed in the 6th grade. In the last sentence of the report I wrote that when I grow up I want to study animals. Well I've been able to do that my entire professional life and plan to continue to do so in to the future.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?
My biggest accomplishment has been successfully developing and continuing the long-term fisheries-independent monitoring program. The program is very important because it allows us to gather information on the fish and their habitats throughout Florida. As the state grows and more stress is placed on these delicate systems, we need to be able to understand how changing environments affect the fish.

What do you like most about your career?
I think the aspect of my job that I like best is the opportunity to be involved in many of the important issues around Florida and being able to help determine how best to solve problems to ensure the well-being of the resources. A hot topic right now is the development of alternative sources of water for human consumption. That water has to come from somewhere, and when it does, it affects the water body from which it is taken. This then affects the fish within the water body. I work with the agencies that withdraw the water to minimize the detrimental effects of withdrawing the water.

What do you like least about your career?
The portion of my career that I find least rewarding is the amount of administrative work I have to do. As the program has grown, I have become more and more of a paper-pusher. Much of my time is spent managing people, developing and managing budgets, and completing reports. I've never enjoyed this aspect of the job, but I realize that it must be done to keep other researchers in the program productive.

What are some of your biggest challenges?
My biggest challenges are typically administrative in nature. Keeping a large number of staff happy is challenging. Staff members work extremely hard, work very long hours, sample in all kinds of weather throughout the year, and work in close working conditions. Attempting to keep them all happy is difficult. On the scientific side, my biggest challenge is determining which projects we should work on and which are less important and can wait until more resources are available. There is much work to be done, and there are always limited resources.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
The advice I give to those that may be interested in a career in the marine biology field is to be sure that is what you really want to do. It must be deep down in your heart that you enjoy this work. The pay will never be great; the hours will always be long. The reward is only there if you truly love the work. Those that succeed are those that love the work. After one determines this is the right career, then getting an education is a must. In most cases, a master's degree is required to get beyond the entry-level positions. Of course, experience is critical. Volunteer; get summer jobs; do whatever you can to get experience and to make contacts. There are always many applying for few openings. Networking and experience will go a long way to getting your foot in the door.

FWC Facts:
A shrimp escapes predators by quickly pulling its abdomen in toward its carapace (body). This motion shoots it through the water backward.

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