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Catherine O'Keefe: Focus on sea scallop fishery

Catherine O'KeefeCatherine "Cate" O'Keefe '14, of Danvers, MA, earned her PhD in Living Marine Resources and Management at SMAST, UMass Dartmouth's School for Marine Science and Technology. The title of her dissertation was "An incentive-based, collaborative approach to maximize yield by avoiding yellowtail flounder bycatch in the US sea scallop fishery."

How did you get interested in your subject, the sea scallop fishery?

I began at SMAST as a research technician in 2006, working on a video survey for sea scallops. Then I became involved in fisheries management and served as a member of the New England Fishery Management Council Scallop Plan Development Team, which is the group that analyzes information about scallop abundance and biomass, bycatch in the scallop fishery, and advises fisheries managers about policy options for the scallop fishery.  

I enrolled as a PhD student in 2008 and worked closely with scallop fishermen on fisheries management issues, including bycatch. In 2009, as part of an SMAST course, Advising Fishery Managers, I collaborated on analyses of ways to reduce bycatch in the scallop fishery. I collaborated with another SMAST student and several SMAST faculty members to develop the ideas from the course into a real-world program to assist the scallop fleet in avoiding bycatch of yellowtail flounder in order to maximize harvest of scallops. The program is based on real-time communications through email between fishing vessels and SMAST about the timing and location of bycatch. The program was implemented in 2010 and became the topic for my PhD dissertation. 

By working directly with fishermen and using their expertise to inform the program, we designed a solution to maximize the scallop harvest.

I got interested in this topic because there was a critical need for a solution to the flounder bycatch problem in the scallop fishery. By working directly with fishermen and using their expertise to inform the development of the program, we were able to design a solution that worked to both maximize scallop harvest and profit and conserve overfished yellowtail flounder.

I was fortunate to be able to work as a research technician and complete my PhD as a student simultaneously. My research was integrated into my daily job responsibilities, as I have been actively running the bycatch avoidance program since 2010.

What has been your experience working with faculty?

I worked closely with three faculty members from SMAST—Kevin Stokesbury, Steve Cadrin and Dan Georgianna—to develop the SMAST Bycatch Avoidance Program, and to complete my dissertation. The experience of working with these faculty members was rewarding and inspiring. In the process of developing a new program collaboratively, we were able to learn from one another and utilize all of our unique skill sets. These faculty members challenged and encouraged me to make my research a successful project, both academically and in practice for fisheries support.

How has your research affected your educational experience?

By utilizing the SMAST Bycatch Avoidance Program as the basis for my PhD, I had the opportunity to research several aspects of fisheries bycatch, fisheries management and social science. My research in these topics expanded my understanding of fisheries management and made my educational experience unique and exciting.

What are your future plans?

My research has opened several opportunities for national and international collaboration in fisheries bycatch management. I'm currently a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at SMAST working on several New England fisheries management projects, and collaborating on a larger Dynamic Ocean Management initiative that incorporates real-time ocean management to meet the demands of the evolving ocean resource.

I plan to continue as a Research Associate at SMAST through 2015, working on the SMAST Bycatch Avoidance Program. I'll be attending the Alaska Sea Grant "Fisheries Bycatch: Global Issues and Creative Solutions" conference in Anchorage during the commencement ceremony and hope to return to UMassD with new ideas for bycatch reduction for additional New England fisheries.

What makes SMAST special?

The Department of Fisheries and Oceanography at SMAST provides a unique opportunity for students to work directly with academia, professional fishery scientists, fishery managers, environmental organizations, and the fishing industry itself. By being located in the most valuable fishing port in the nation, students are exposed to and encouraged to participate in the daily workings of all aspects of fisheries, while working with world-renowned fisheries scientists on the SMAST faculty. There is no equivalent fishery science program on the East Coast, and students who graduate from SMAST have a proven track record of success in the fisheries field.

Any advice for future students ?

Take advantage of every opportunity that is presented while you're at UMass Dartmouth. The University has a unique connection and commitment to the surrounding community and there is a lot to learn outside the classroom walls. 

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