Staff Spotlight

This issue, Eric Weather, from Fisheries Independent Monitoring answered a few of our questions about himself and his career. Thanks, Eric.

What has your professional experience been like?

My experience began as a trout fisherman in the tributaries of Lake Ontario.   On a typical cold and misty fall afternoon in Western New York, I hiked down to a familiar trout hole on the Oak Orchard Creek.  I balanced on submerged cobbles along the shin deep river bank and rolled a marinated salmon egg toward the edge of an eddy with my grandfathers homemade bamboo fly rod.  A fresh run steelhead took the bait and charged down river.  That beautiful fish fought hard.  He was only hooked for a few minutes, but I was hooked for life…

A handful of years later I graduated from the University of Rhode Island with an undergraduate degree in Fisheries Science.  I began my career with the USDA Forest Service in the Klamath National Forest, California, sampling salmon carcasses at varying levels of decay.  A few years later the draw of the warm and diverse gulf brought me to St. Pete where I’ve worked with the FIM program for roughly 13 years. 

What are you working on now?

I work on a wide variety of FIM related projects.  Inshore and offshore field sampling, habitat mapping, GIS analysis, outreach products, etc.  The two science related topics I am most focused on currently are; developing an automated approach for habitat classification for multibeam sonar data and cross-comparing those results with habitat classes derived from side-scan sonar data; and, utilizing historic FIM and HAB data to better understand the impacts of red tide events in the estuaries along the west coast of Florida.

How is this information beneficial?

FIM’s mission is to provide timely data to support stock assessments and management decisions.  The habitat classification information will help inform FIM’s Gulf of Mexico stratified-random sampling survey design, which provides critical information for stock assessments.  The HAB impacts on estuarine fishes information will help managers and stock assessors better understand how to model populations and make informed decisions following perturbations such as red tide.

What is your typical work day like?

I choose this field in protest to the idea of a “typical work day.”

What is your greatest career accomplishment?

This is an extremely competitive field and it requires a unique set of skills and a driving desire to do good for our environment.  My greatest accomplishment has been having the opportunity to hire some incredibly talented individuals and work with them to develop their skills and confidence to become amazing scientists, that are having a positive impact on our world.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge I face is time.  There so much important work to be done here, and so many directions that we can go, it can be difficult to find balance at times. 

What do you like most about your career?

I love the people I get to work with and their passion for this field.  I learn something new every day.  I also love being on the water and staying connected to the data at the level of the sample.

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

At 6 years old I was lounging on an itchy corduroy couch in my parents cold basement during a typical 9-month Buffalo, NY winter when an episode of Jaques Costeau’s Undersea World  came on and changed my life.  It was from that point on that I knew I wanted to work on the ocean. 

Before that,  I was primarily interested in being a cowboy.

What would you do if you weren’t involved in science?

It’s the fisheries part of the science that most interests me.  If I wasn’t involved in fisheries science, I’d probably be a charter fisherman or a distracted contractor that cuts out of work early to go fishing, or a cowboy.

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

It’s not the opportunities that you can see that make the difference, it’s the ones that you make.  I don’t know who said that but I’m sure I didn’t make it up.  Seth Godin wrote a blog entitled something like – “Pick Yourself.”  This comment was based on his observation that in the world we live in today, the “gatekeepers” are sort of going away.  In this type of highly competitive field full of incredibly intelligent and motivated people, you need to find what problem you’re interested in solving, combine that with what you are good at (or would like to be good at) and create your own space.  Make your opportunities.  Pick yourself.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoy sacrificing my free time to run a business that keeps my family financially viable.  I hope to someday have some of this so called “free time” to go fishing more.  I have an amazing family; my wife and two boys are everything to me and we enjoy being together and being healthy.  Everything else is gravy.