Andy studied for a degree in aquaculture and fisheries management
From an extremely young age I have been fascinated by fish, both keeping them in aquaria and angling for them. From about the age of 12 I knew I wanted to pursue a job that involved getting wet, cold, muddy, and above all, catching fish.
I studied for a degree in aquaculture and fisheries management at Sparsholt College, Winchester in Hampshire. This was very much hands-on: breeding fish, fish husbandry, business skills and learning the various techniques of assessing fish populations, which is pretty much the main part of my job these days. In my first year, a tutor made it known that the then fisheries science department at the Environment Agency (EA) in York was looking for students to help them out over the summer with a large amount of field work.
During my second year, I actually spent considerably more time in the fisheries science section than I did studying at Sparsholt, taking my six weeks' industrial placement there and also staying a number of weeks while the college (which is a land base college) was shut due to the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001. During this time I did a lot of work on my dissertation. The industrial placement was invaluable as a way to make contacts in what is a relatively small industry.
The role of assisting the Environment Agency in their field work was still required after I finished my finals and I have remained there ever since. I was initially employed through various temporary contracts and was made permanent in 2004.
Fisheries officers at the Environment Agency work in two different areas. There is the ecological appraisal team (EAT), which attracts candidates from holistic freshwater biology backgrounds and investigates fish mortalities. Increasingly, EAT staff will not only have to deal with fisheries work but also carry out surveys of aquatic invertebrates, aquatic and emergent vegetation and other indicators of water quality such as diatoms.
Fisheries technical officers in the fisheries and recreational and fisheries recreation bio-diversity teams are more fisheries orientated and are the public face of the organisation. Their responsibilities include giving fisheries management advice, fish rescues and transfers. They are involved in angling participation projects as well. Some enforcement work (checking of rod licences and anti poaching) previously carried out by these fisheries staff is now carried out by environment officers. The fisheries technical officers tend to be slightly older than EAT staff, as the desirable skills tend to come with time, experience and knowledge of the stakeholders. There is also a fisheries science department at 'national' level.
Personally, I am involved with various forms of fish capture: electric fishing, seine netting and catching of migratory salmonids at permanent fish traps. I compile various angler catch data to assess the direct performance of recreational fisheries. Once all this data has been gathered it is a case of 'reading' fish scales to age them, inputting the information on to various databases and using the outputs to compile reports for various internal and external stakeholders, from angling clubs and fishery owners to the European government.
For the last four years the role has been pretty constant. The work I do has an annual cycle so it is easy to manage my time, and it allows me to factor in more novel forms of data collection and assist in other projects and research. My intentions are to gain as much practical and theoretical experience as possible for the next ten years or so, with the Environment Agency or similar organisation, then possibly think about setting up on my own, when the economic climate is favourable.
I enjoy what I do because basically I have more or less successfully combined what was a hobby in to a job. This, however, is not always the ideal situation most people would dream of, as it can be very difficult to 'switch off' sometimes. There are some low points, including having a leaking dry-suit in water just above freezing point, which is never a pleasurable way to start a Monday morning, but it gives your colleagues a laugh. However, overall, the odd low point is greatly overshadowed by getting paid to do something I love, in more often than not the beautiful Yorkshire Dales.
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