Freshwater Fisheries Research: Drew Dutterer

Drew currently works on three major projects. He studies the biology of black crappie; evaluates recreational fishers; and tracks trophy-size bass.


     Drew Dutter tagging a bass.

Drew Dutterer Freshwater Fisheries Biology
Gainesville Fisheries Lab (at University of Florida)


B.S. Environmental Sciences, ecology concentration
North Carolina State University                                                         

M.S. Fisheries Science
University of Florida


My experiences in fisheries science began as an undergraduate student at NC State, where I worked as a field/lab tech for the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit there.  During that time, I learned a lot and was exposed to quite a few great research projects, which really influenced me to continue down the path of fisheries research.  After graduating at NC State, I relocated to Gainesville, FL to work at the University of Florida Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, and there, I worked on many different projects (over 8 years) as I transitioned from technician to graduate student to research scientist.  Much of the research that I was involved in during my time at UF revolved around riverine fish ecology and relationships of fish and their habitats, and then predicting how changes in water levels and river flows might affect the habitat and fish.  These projects were generally designed to provide guidance to minimum flows and levels regulations that our state has been adopting. I got the opportunity to begin working with the FWC relatively recently (2011).  This gave me the chance to shift research in a slightly different direction and transition toward researching components of Florida’s recreational freshwater fisheries.


What are you working on now?

Recently, most of my time has been spent with three primary projects. 

One project has been devoted to measuring size and age at sexual maturity for female black crappie.  Size and age at maturity for black crappie has been a bit of an unknown for us in Florida, but it has big implications for how we might manage crappie fisheries.  If female crappie get heavily fished before they become reproductive, this could lead to recruitment overfishing and depressed population levels.  From what we’ve learned so far, size and age at maturity for crappie can vary from lake to lake, possibly as a function of population density.  It is probably a parameter that we should measure at each lake if a stock assessment is conducted there.

Another project was directed at evaluating the utility of motion-triggered (game) cameras at boat ramps as a method to measure recreational fishing effort.  Florida has something like 7,700 lakes.  We are limited to measuring fishing effort to just the select, top-fisheries.  However, if measuring fishing effort via autonomous cameras were effective and cost efficient, we could likely expand the number of water bodies that we monitor, leading to more informed and effective fisheries management.  So far, we’ve found that the camera monitoring method is probably pretty accurate and captures a large percentage of boat traffic as it enters and leaves lakes.  The FWC continues to use cameras at boat ramps for some applications.

The third project has been managing a state-wide tagging study for trophy-sized largemouth bass.  This project was designed to operate in tandem with the agency’s new trophy bass documentation program – TrophyCatch.  TrophyCatch aims to promote catch-and-release of trophy-sized largemouth bass, while establishing a state-wide trophy bass database.  Through the tagging study, we can monitor angler catch and harvest rates of trophy-sized bass, as well as angler participation in the TrophyCatch program.  Trends in these data will help us gage the influence and success of the TrophyCatch program.


What is your typical work day like?
One of the nice things about my job is that there can be a lot variation in my day to day activities. Fieldwork – I get plenty of opportunities to get on the water for data collection across the state.  In the last year, I’ve collected and measured black crappie ovaries at Lake Istokpoga, and helped set nets for a population estimate of alligator gar in the Escambia River. Data analysis – Of course, we have to extract meaning from the data we collect.  I have been brushing up on age-structured population models for evaluating minimum length limits for black crappie populations and trying to understand generalized linear mixed models for testing things, like differences in crappie maturity data with respect to method or lake. Writing – Writing about research can take up a large part of my time (as it should).  I help Outreach staff write articles for the public, write annual reports, progress reports, work plans, and proposals for internal use, and try to write journal articles for completed projects.


What is your greatest career accomplishment?
Receiving my two degrees were definitely high points, and I am proud of them and the work they represent.  However, it still feels like I’m relatively early in my career.  Maybe, we can revisit this one in another 20 or 30 years.

What are some of your biggest challenges?
Currently, my biggest challenge is wrapping-up projects.  I’ve found that is very easy to jump into the next new project, leaving a few loose ends on the last one (i.e., publishing papers).  I’ve got a few projects that I’m ready to put to bed, and doing that is a high-priority resolution during this year.


What do you like most about your career?
There’s something about fish – they’ve always been fascinating to me.  The fact that I get to spend a large part of my working day focused on something fish-related is great.  After that, I’d say variety and challenge.  I get to work on lots of different projects, so it’s rarely monotonous.  Because there’s variety, there’s also the challenge to balance time and learn new subject matter and analytical approaches.


Was this your original career interest?
I grew up in North Carolina, where we have the Wildlife Resources Commission, which publishesWildlife in North Carolina, its public outreach publication.  I have had a subscription to that magazine since I was 8 or 9 years old, so I grew up well aware of fisheries and wildlife scientists and the kinds of things that they did, recognizing that these had to be cool jobs.  However, that was not my first pick.  Through high school and early college, I was preparing more for a career in an engineering related field.  Somewhere in the midst of my second year at NC State, I was bogged down during a particularly dull semester filled with calculus, statics, and other pre-engineering classes, and I began looking at other program options.  I discovered that I needed to inject some of the life sciences into my course of studies.


What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?
That’s really tough to say.  Had I not changed directions in undergrad, I would likely work as an engineer, maybe and architect?   My dad is a veterinarian, and I was usually pretty keen on watching and helping him with animal surgeries.  Had a few things gone a little differently early on, I might have gone after something like that.


What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
Start building job-relevant experience as early as possible.  Undergraduate students should pursue part-time and/or summer jobs, internships, or volunteer opportunities in fisheries, or other related sciences, throughout their time in college.  This gives you a chance to see what’s out there and get an idea of what suits you, and what doesn’t.  It also builds your experience and your network of professionals – it’s always good to know people.  Be prepared to pursue a graduate degree.  My perception is that a lot of agency positions do not require having a graduate degree, but it will be very tough to be competitive for a position without one.


What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I really enjoy fishing.  It’s a big part of what influenced me to get in involved in this field and to land in Florida.  I probably split time about 60/40 between saltwater and freshwater trips.  If on the salt, I’m probably looking for a tarpon or redfish bite.  Largemouth bass is about the only freshwater fish I target with any regularity.

 For a few years now, I’ve been playing tennis with a group of friends and co-workers in Gainesville.  We’re all more or less at the same level of competence (or incompetence), so it can get pretty competitive.  It’s a lot of fun, and we all look forward to it.  You can’t beat a heated doubles-tennis match among friends. 

Cooking new and tasty foods at home with my sweetheart will always be a favorite, too.


FWC Facts:
Flounder begin their lives with eyes on either side of their head. As they grow, one eye migrates so that both eyes are on the same side of the head.

Learn More at AskFWC