Thursday, September 15, 2016

Meet The Council - Dr. Tom Frazer

Photo Credit: University of Florida
Do you ever wonder who makes fishery management decisions in the Gulf? The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council uses the best scientific information available and balances competing interests to make fishery management recommendations to the Secretary of Commerce. Each member of the Council is appointed to serve because they possess intimate knowledge and experience of some aspect of the fishery. Our newest Council member, Dr. Tom Frazer, the Director of the School of Natural Resources and Environment for the University of Florida, certainly fits the bill.

Tom’s extensive passion for marine fisheries began in the waves off the coast of Southern California. As a surfer, Tom’s passion for the ocean developed at an early a
ge. He spent countless hours contemplating the beauty and complexity of the ocean while waiting to catch the next wave. Tom also grew-up an avid fisherman, targeting mostly largemouth bass from freshwater lakes and occasionally catching tuna on saltwater trips.

When it came time to choose his career path, Tom decided to turn his passions into a career. He attended Humboldt State University, the only school in California to offer a degree program in marine fisheries. While there, he spent his free days honing his fishing skills in search of steelhead and salmon and spearfishing for ling cod. By night, he worked as a fishery biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor the Indian gill-net fishery on the Klamath River.

Tom then moved to Florida and began working as a biologist for the University of Florida where he focused on manipulating artificial reef structures to enhance productivity and maximize their ecological benefits. He also earned his Master’s degree in fisheries and aquatic sciences, while continuing his work with Gulf species including stone crabs, sea bass and triggerfish.
Photo Credit: Florida Sea Grant
Tom returned to California to earn his doctoral degree and studied the effects of climate change on ice dynamics and the ecology of larval krill in the Antarctic. According to Tom: “My graduate studies really opened my eyes to the issue of scale as it relates to environmental matters,” and thus motivated him to return to the Gulf after completing his Ph.D., to figure out what factors influence fisheries productivity in the Gulf of Mexico.

Upon his return to Florida, Tom discovered that some very basic information about primary production (the bottom of the food chain) was lacking for large parts of the Gulf region. In an effort to better understand the drivers of primary production and a healthy ocean ecosystem,  he designed and implemented a water quality sampling program along the central Gulf coast of peninsular Florida.

Over the years, Tom researched and worked his way to the top of the food chain at the University of Florida’s School of Natural Resources and Environment where he currently serves as Director. His recent research activities are focused on coral reef ecosystems.  He has spent the last several years working specifically with invasive lionfish in an effort to provide information that will help limit impacts on key fishery species and other living marine resources.

Dr. Frazer answered some questions to give us insight into his perspective as the newest manager of our Gulf fishery:

Photo Credit: Florida Sea Grant

What motivates you to serve on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council? “I’m incredibly excited to serve on the Council and hope to play a key role in ensuring that knowledge generated as part of the scientific process is effectively translated into reasonable and logical management measures that ensure the health of the ecosystem and sustain our fishing communities.”

What is the most important issue in the fishery today? “One of the biggest issues we’re facing at the moment is uncertainty in fisheries data and how it’s dealt with. If we can find ways to reduce uncertainty in our fisheries independent data as well as our harvest data, then we can manage fishery resources in the Gulf with more confidence.

Another issue we face is a decline in fishing opportunities. I would like to explore novel solutions that maximize access to the resource without compromising sustainability.  I think that we are all in this for the long haul.”

Can you share a favorite fishing moment with us? ”Well….I’ve fallen off a boat more than a few times in my life, but only intentionally followed a rod into the water once and ONLY to learn that a large shark was attached to the business end of the gear.  Probably shouldn’t have done that, but I still have the rod!”