Staff Spotlight

Our own Ed Matheson (actually Richard E. Matheson, but no one knows that name) in Fisheries Independent Monitoring took the time to give us a glimpse into his illustrious past this week, so let’s dive in:

What are your degrees? 

B.S. and M.A. from the College of William and Mary in 1975 and 1979, respectively; PhD from Texas A&M University in 1983.

What has your professional experience been like? 

I have been at the Institute since 1987, but before that time I had postdoctoral fellowships at Harbor Branch Institution in Fort Pierce, Florida, and at Rutgers University in Tuckerton, New Jersey. At various times during my tenure at FWRI, I have lectured in some classes at USF and been an adjunct at USF, UF, and UCF for the purpose of serving on graduate student committees. My work at FWRI began with supervising a four-year study of the Little Manatee River (in the Fish Biology Section). Later on, I moved to the Fisheries-Independent Monitoring Program (FIM), where I have been ever since.

A red-winged blackbird, as photographed by Ed.

What are you working on now?

Most of my time is spent assisting the various FIM field labs with fish identification and improving the identification keys that we have for various families of fishes. I also write or co-write various manuscripts and edit other manuscripts for FWRI staff. In addition, I often assist with fish identification for the public when information requests are sent to the lab.

How is this information beneficial?

Accurate information on the distribution and abundance of fishes in Florida is necessary for informed fishery and ecosystem management. This is obviously true for fishes of direct economic value, but it is also true for non-harvested species who are predators, competitors, and prey for the harvested species. Information on the latter species becomes even more important as we develop more ecosystem-level management strategies.

What is your typical work day like?

My work days vary a lot, but I spend considerable amounts of time identifying fish for the FIM program, assisting FIM personnel in fish identification, and compiling information useful for the identification of Florida species. Other frequently recurring activities include writing and editing manuscripts and identifying fish for the public. The latter activity is obviously an important part of our outreach efforts, but it has also produced some interesting fish records. Most photos from the public are common species, but every now and then we get something really rare, such as the jellynose fish (we’re up to three specimens now of this rare deep sea fish).

A periodical cicada. photographed by Ed.

What is your greatest career accomplishment?

Other than surviving this long, I suppose it would be developing expertise on the identification, distribution, and abundance of Florida fishes, including juvenile stages. By training FIM staff in fish identification and producing materials (e.g., identification keys) useful for identification of Florida fishes, I hope I have made some contribution to the excellent reputation of the FIM program for producing high quality, accurate data. There are about 1,200 species in what I would call the FWRI universe: Florida waters from freshwater to the edge of the continental shelf. Nobody arrives at FWRI with knowledge of this entire fauna; it has to be obtained over years of hands-on experience and study, and I still learn something new almost every day.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

In fish identification it is developing methods for identifying poorly known species. This is especially true for offshore species; species groups containing multiple, closely related species which are difficult to separate; and for juveniles of various species.

What do you like most about your career?

Assisting FIM staff, other FWRI staff, and the public with fish identification, and watching young staff members develop their skills in this area.

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

Working on something involving water was always my main interest. From fishing and keeping aquaria as a kid to studying biology in college, this never changed. I could have studied aquatic insects at one point (sorry fish people, but these may be the coolest animals on the planet and very few people know anything about them), but ichthyology was a much better career choice.

A wood stork, photographed by Ed.

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?

Probably still something involving the natural world. Park Ranger? Nature photographer? Also, I love old movies, so perhaps I would be involved in the film industry. Nature documentaries?

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

Only do it out of love for the work. If you get into this field for the money, you are not thinking very clearly. Most of us make enough money to pay our bills, but there’s not much room for error. But, if you really love the work, by all means become a marine biologist. If you love it enough, it’s not really like having a job.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I do a lot of nature photography. I am by no means an expert, and I insist on using an outdated camera that I have been using for years. Nevertheless, I still come up with some good shots. As I mentioned above, I also love old movies, TCM channel is great.