Freshwater Fisheries Research: Kimberly Bonvechio

Kim works at FWRI's Eustis field laboratory, where she is working to establish standardized protocols for sampling freshwater fishes in inland waters of the state.

Kim BonvechioDegrees
B.S. Marine Science, University of South Carolina, 1998
M.S. Freshwater Fish Ecology with a minor in Geography, University of Florida, 2001  

As an undergraduate at the University of South Carolina (USC), I was involved with many different aspects of marine science, including working in a fish age and growth lab, volunteering for a graduate student with a hydrogeology study in South Carolina estuaries, and conducting a summer internship project on several harmful algal bloom species. I love science and in the beginning, I found it hard to narrow down my interests. But, one thing was certain: I could not work offshore. I ended up with sea sickness on just about every research and recreational boat cruise that I have ever taken on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. I learned very early that although I love the ocean, the ocean did not love me.

When I graduated from USC and began searching for my next adventure, fate drew me to Gainesville. I began working as a freshwater fisheries technician with Dr. Mike Allen at the University of Florida. When I first started, I couldn't back-up a boat, I couldn't identify any freshwater fish, and I knew nothing about fisheries management. Everything was new to me, talk about green! But with patience, time, and several mishaps with the boat, I learned my way around the freshwater realm and realized that freshwater systems weren't all that different from saltwater. I thought, "Hey, I can still do research on the water, but I won't get sea sick. Perfect!"

About a year after I arrived in Gainesville, I entered graduate school and worked on a project to investigate how plant and fish communities re-establish following a major habitat enhancement at Lake Kissimmee. This habitat enhancement project involved the mechanical removal of large amounts of nuisance vegetation from the shoreline, which left some areas void of plants. I studied how plants re-established in these areas and consequently, what changes resulted in the fish communities.

Upon graduating from the University of Florida in 2001, I worked for a short stint as a biological scientist under Dr. Mike Allen before obtaining a freshwater fisheries biologist position in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) Kissimmee field office. This management position involved lots of work outdoors, from interviewing anglers on the water to sampling fishes to working with community fishing events and nature camps. Although I really enjoyed my time in the sun, my greatest love has always been working with data.

In the fall of 2003, I took a new position in Eustis as a research biologist. Finally, after nearly ten years of searching, I was finally right where I belonged.


What are you working on now?
I was hired to establish standardized protocols for sampling freshwater fishes in inland waters of the state. In the past, each field and regional office conducted fish surveys independent of each other. Because of this, data were collected in different ways with multiple gear types or configurations, and at various times of the year. In order to streamline data collection and entry procedures and improve our science-based management practices, a standardized sampling manual and freshwater fisheries database were created. My current work mostly revolves around the maintenance and continual improvement of these products.

Part of my time also involves working with the American eel (Anguilla rostrata). Florida is mandated by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to conduct sampling of these eels during the winter months and collect information about the small commercial fishery that still exists in Florida.

Was freshwater fisheries work your original career interest?
No. Initially, my interests were geared towards marine biology with a particular focus on marine mammals. However during my undergraduate career, I was introduced to many different facets of fisheries, including working with otoliths of spotted sea trout and barramundi, conducting stream fish surveys with backpack electrofishing, and participating on a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) research cruise for a larval cod predation study. These experiences really piqued my interest in working with fish. When I moved to Florida and met Dr. Mike Allen, the biggest fishing fanatic I have ever met (next to my husband), I dove head first into fishing and fisheries management. I haven't looked back since.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?
I would say that my biggest accomplishment has been the creation of FWC's standardized sampling manual for inland waters. It took approximately 2-1/2 years to complete and required gathering and summarizing information from many different sources, including researchers, FWC biologists, other state agency protocols, and peer-reviewed literature. I am very proud of this project because biologists have been trying to establish such protocols for well over 20 years. But for one reason or another, the protocols were never implemented on any broad-scale level. This has marked a new era in freshwater fisheries management in Florida, and I'm glad to be an important part of that.

What do you like most about your career?
Mostly, the flexibility and job diversity. I have a flexible work schedule, so I have been able to stay committed to my job while, at the same time, devoting as much time as possible to my family. Family is very important to me so this is a big plus. Additionally, no two days are alike with my job. There is always something different to do: a new question to answer or a new problem to solve. This keeps me motivated by challenging me to learn new things and improve myself professionally.

What do you like least about your career?
My husband and I both work as fisheries biologists, so it has been very difficult to find employment in close proximity to each other. Also, in many cases, in order to get promoted to a higher paying position, it involves a location and job duty change. This can be a challenging situation, especially if you have strong ties to a particular area or become deeply involved in a particular research or management project.

What are some of your biggest challenges?
Although few people will openly admit this, gender bias in the freshwater fisheries field is something that still exists and it can be challenging if encountered. I had the unfortunate opportunity to experience this early in my career, but I surrounded myself with people who supported and encouraged me and I continued to work hard developing my professional skills. Through time, I acquired the necessary skills, experience, and confidence to excel in this field and overcome these types of obstacles.

On a more personal note, I feel my biggest challenge has been balancing family with my career. Thankfully, with a very understanding set of supervisors and some creative work solutions, I have been able to strike the perfect balance. Sometimes, change is needed to overcome a challenge, and I feel blessed to work for such wonderful, caring people who aren't afraid to institute such changes.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
There is so much I could say here, but I'll try to summarize the main tidbits of advice I would like to pass along to our future scientists: While in college, get involved with professional organizations and clubs and volunteer or work in as many different areas related to your field as possible (not just one). In addition to gaining valuable work experience, you will also gain important skills that will help you professionally such as leadership and time management skills.

  • When choosing your college classes, take a look at job boards to find out what skills are being most sought after. Then, take courses to coincide with those. Additional skills will make you more marketable when applying for jobs.
  • In the beginning of your career it is easy to be unsure of yourself and your abilities. You will constantly question yourself, "Can I really do this?" Yes, you can and yes, it is completely normal to feel that way. Will you make mistakes? Yes. Will you learn some hard lessons? Sure. But so has everyone else.
  • Enjoy life. Life isn't all about school or your career. There are so many other things more important, like family, life's adventures and time with friends. So keep life (and work) in perspective.
  • Be flexible and open-minded in your learning. By that I mean don't be afraid to learn and try new things because you never know what you might be missing.
  • Always strive to improve yourself professionally and personally. Even when you are finished with school, learning never ends. There are so many lessons in life to learn, so embrace learning throughout your life.
  • No matter how talented you are or how much you accomplish in life, always retain your humility. Every person, no matter what their degree or profession, has something to offer to you and the world. There is a great saying by Reverend Jesse Jackson, "Never look down on a man, unless you are helping him up."
  • There will be people in your life that will question your abilities, but don't ever let them discourage you from achieving your life's dreams.

FWC Facts:
Slow-growing stony corals have been declining throughout the Florida Keys, altering the living reef structure that began forming 6,000 years ago.

Learn More at AskFWC