Marine Fisheries Research: Sarah Stephenson

Learn more about Sarah and her current research on bay scallops.


B.S. Biology, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill


I've focused my career mainly on gaining experience. I've been with the Molluscan Fisheries group at FWRI since 1999.

What are you working on now?

Bay scallop population assessment and research throughout the Gulf of Mexico, with an immediate focus on the impact that the recreational harvest has on local scallop populations. I'm working with our Outreach Coordination Office to design and implement an online web survey that will take a look at the numbers and volume of scallops removed during this year's scallop season.

How is this information beneficial?

This information, along with our pre- and post-season abundance surveys, will help fine tune our knowledge of the bay scallop's critical stock levels. In other words, how many scallops (or what volume of scallops) can be removed from the system before a negative effect is observed.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?

I didn't really have a specific career picked out in college until I took an invertebrate zoology class. The professor focused mainly on marine animals, and I fell in love with the diversity and uniqueness of the animals. I consider myself very lucky to have found a position in the marine world working with molluscs.

What is your biggest accomplishment?

I would say that successfully managing our bay scallop program year to year is my biggest accomplishment. I put a lot of time and effort into developing and promoting our research. It gives me a lot of satisfaction when I hear that others find scallops fascinating and are interested in our science.

What do you like most about your career?

I love that several days during the month my office is on a boat. In the summertime before the recreational scallop season opens, I get to travel around the Gulf coastline scuba diving and counting bay scallops. The shallow water seagrass beds are a beautiful place to spend your day.

What do you like least about your career?

Of course the same thing that I love is oftentimes what I like least about my job. Being away from my family for long periods can take its toll, especially when things don't go as planned.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

My biggest challenge is just being able to adapt on the go. Research science always seems to fluctuate - sometimes opposite of what I was expecting - and knowing how to adjust my daily work plan, equipment, or personnel to best suit the needs of the research is challenging and fulfilling.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?

Don't give up, and be flexible. This can be a hard field to break into, and even once you're in it can seem overwhelming at times. Also, know that you might not start out working your dream job, but with hard work and patience you can eventually reach your goals.

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