Catalyzing Solutions: Boats ’N Hoes

By SOPHIE WULFING

Over the summer of 2017, I interned for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, where I conducted a research project that updated population models to incorporate rates of atresia. Atresia is when a fish will self-abort its perfectly healthy eggs due to environmental stress, the fish’s age, or anything that could make it unable to produce viable eggs.

There was also a field component to this internship. Every year, NOAA conducts a survey of commercial fishing regions in order to count each species of fish to set up next years’ quotas. To do this, the scientists at NOAA work with commercial fisherman to catch harvested species and to assess the biodiversity of our oceans. This meant working and living on a commercial fishing vessel for a few weeks. When I explain this to people, they often say something like “You lived with fishermen? How was that? Were they… you know, respectful?” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have those same reservations beforehand. However, after living with all of them in close quarters, I got a whole new perspective.

Photo Courtesy of Sophie Wulfing

On a fishing boat, you’re often out there for months at a time, doing hard labor and getting a lot of face time with the others on the boat. This creates a very unique work culture that is hard to fully encapsulate. Despite dangerous and strenuous work conditions, they were hands-down the funniest people I’ve ever met. Almost everything that came out of their mouths was a joke, and I think I spent more time laughing than actually working.

They also spoke a lot about how much they love doing the survey because they meet people who look and think differently than the people they typically encounter in the small fishing towns that they’re from. Also, this is totally a weird brag, but one of the boats was featured on Deadliest Catch and I got to live and work with some people from the show.

I learned more than I ever thought I would during my internship at NOAA. I learned how to manage and analyze large data sets, about the complexity of the fishing industry, how to open a beer bottle with a ring, and so much more. However, I think my biggest takeaway is that I love when people surprise me.

Like everyone else, I go into new situations with my own assumptions and worries about how things are going to turn out and what kind of people I’m dealing with. However, I’ve found that I’m almost always wrong. I’m not talking about the fishing industry as a whole, because I only know a few fishermen, but whatever notions I had before the boat excursion completely dissipated. I found myself among some of the most genuine, loving, and side-splittingly hilarious people I’ve ever met. Overall, my experience on the boat taught me to treasure when I realize I am wrong about who people are and what they can bring to the table.

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