The U.S. Departments of Commerce and Education have just released a report to Congress on America's pending shortage of fisheries scientists, specifically those who focus on stock assessment.

Jim Berkson, associate professor of fisheries and wildlife sciences at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and a unit leader for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fisheries Service, represented the agency at a press conference about the report on Monday, Sept. 29.

Berkson, a major contributor to the report, was joined by Steven Murawski, director of science programs and chief science adviser for the NOAA Fisheries Service, and Elizabeth Brooks of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

Stock assessment scientists conduct scientific research to determine the current status and future trends of marine species populations and provide key advice to policymakers. “The need for these scientists, whose work is critical to the conservation and management of the nation’s marine resources, is increasing due to workload increases and agency retirements,” Berkson explained. “Unfortunately, universities are not producing the number of scientists needed to meet the demand.” The report indicates that increasing the supply will require increasing the number of faculty and graduate students in the field, along with improving the quality of incoming graduate students.

To address the anticipated shortage of fisheries scientists, Virginia Tech, home to one of the oldest and most respected fisheries programs in the United States, has partnered with the NOAA Fisheries Service to create a first-of-its-kind program designed to identify, train, and mentor promising undergraduates from across the nation in this discipline. Led by Berkson, the Population Dynamics Recruiting Program (PDRP), now in its fifth year, is increasing the quality and quantity of incoming graduate students in the field.

It also conducts important stock assessment research in support of the NOAA Fisheries Service’s mission in a unique collaboration of undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral associates, university faculty, and agency scientists. The NOAA Fisheries Service has provided financial support to operate the recruiting program, which is serving as a model for a new generation of cooperative research programs nationwide.

To date, 76 students representing 49 colleges and universities in 22 states have participated in Population Dynamics Recruiting Program workshops. Evaluations indicate that between one-quarter and one-third of all workshop participants have entered graduate school in the discipline. “The program is finding top students from around the country who knew little to nothing about this unique discipline,” observed Berkson. “The PDRP workshops are educating and exciting the students, and as a result, many are now entering the discipline. This is being viewed as a great success by both the university and the agency.”

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