How many fish are there in the sea?
And, perhaps more importantly, how many can we harvest without jeopardizing fish populations?
Policymakers turn to fisheries scientists like Dr. Lisa Kerr for data in considering ecological questions with direct applications for fisheries management.
“My work is about understanding the fish population and how we can manage our commercial and recreational fisheries better by understanding enough about their biology and ecology,” says Lisa, a researcher at Gulf of Maine Research Institute on Portland’s harbor.
Kerr specializes in otoliths—basically, the earbones of fish—which have patterns that can be counted like you might count the rings on a tree to determine age. She applies chemistry to fish earbones to determine where they originated, as fish populations do travel. And she uses mathematical modeling to understand biocomplexity within fish stocks.
“A big focus for me is not only doing the science but participating in advisory roles on how to help translate the science into applied decision-making,” says Lisa, who is on the Science and Statistical Committee for New England Fisheries panel.
“We want to allow people to utilize a resource but also be sure that resource will be there year after year,” Lisa says. “People in this region are in tune with the work we do, whether they eat fish or they get out on the water and enjoy the environment, and that’s gratifying.”
She has always enjoyed being on, in or near the water, having grown up spending summers at Cape Cod.
“A real fun part is being in touch with the fish and with working fisherman,” Lisa says. “We try to integrate them as real partners, asking them about their observations.”
Amy Paradysz is a writer, editor and photographer who lives in Scarborough.