Faces of the Sea - Patricia Wilson, Fish Health Unit

Patricia Wilson, Marine Institute

As an Administrator in the Marine Institute's Fish Health Unit, Patricia Wilson deals with the health of fish and shellfish and the prevention and control of certain aquatic diseases.

Patricia studied marine biology at Queen's University Belfast, before completing a Masters in Environmental Management at Ulster University, Northern Ireland.

"I had a science teacher, who was extremely enthusiastic about biology. I couldn't help but be inspired by him and that really encouraged me to study marine biology at university. I thoroughly enjoyed the course, especially the field and lab work elements. During the summer breaks from college I was employed as a fisheries officer with the Loughs Agency, which was an excellent opportunity to gain industry experience while studying," Patricia said.

Following her studies, Patricia worked as a research assistant at Inland Fisheries Ireland, before joining the Marine Institute in 2013 in an administrative capacity within Fisheries Ecosystems Advisory Services.

"I mainly had an administrative role, but I was also given the opportunity to take part in surveys, undertake port sampling and work in the ageing prep lab. It was a great experience and a good way to get to know people and understand their roles in the Marine Institute," Patricia said.

Patricia then moved to the Marine Institute's Fish Health Unit, which is the Competent Authority in Ireland for implementing the European Union's aquatic animal health legislation (Council Directive 2006/88/EC).

Patricia and the team in the Fish Health Unit at the Marine Institute have responsibility for carrying out a number of statutory duties. These include:

  • Authorisation of Aquaculture Production Businesses (APBs)
  • Approval and consequent traceability of movements of finfish, shellfish and ornamental fish
  • Maintenance of the public register of Aquaculture Production Businesses
  • Co-ordination of site inspections of Aquaculture Production Businesses
  • Reporting of increased unexplained mortality.

"In the Fish Health Unit, we look at animal health status in relation to farmed fish and shellfish. An important aspect of the role is to monitor imports and exports of fish and shellfish to ensure that we comply with EU requirements and focus on maintaining Ireland's fish health status," Patricia said.

"A significant amount of my workload involves providing authorisation to shellfish Aquaculture Production Businesses. This involves the tracking of fish movements and ensuring compliance with the risk based surveillance scheme and providing the mechanism for reporting of disease," she explained.

Patricia also acts as an 'Official Inspector' under the legislation to complete shellfish site inspections as part of the risk based surveillance programme.

"Site inspections are an opportunity to meet with the shellfish growers, to realise and appreciate how a shellfish site is managed and this ultimately helps us in the office to improve our systems with practical compliance in mind."

"The Fish Health Unit is certified under a Quality Management System (ISO 9001 2015). We are committed to quality and efficiency in the service we provide. The quality system drives continuous improvements in all aspects of the role, and the team are always looking for ways to reduce risks as we strive to improve our service," Patricia said.

"It's really important to have organisation and time management skills in this role as there are different deadlines to meet throughout the year. Providing customer service is also a major aspect of the position as I communicate daily with members of the public, industry and other state agencies"

Patricia has recently commenced a new role in the Fisheries Ecosystems Advisory Services (FEAS) team as a Senior Laboratory Analyst. Within this new role Patricia will be responsible for joint management of the FEAS Laboratory Analysts team, with a strong focus on the coordination and management of the technical work programme to implement the Data Collection Framework.

"Although I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working in the Fish Health Unit and I will miss working with such a motivating and hardworking team, I am excited to take on this new position in the Marine Institute and to join my new team within FEAS. I believe in challenging yourself on your career path and embracing such opportunities with a sense of excitement and enthusiasm."

Although Patricia's positions have focused on aquatic science, on a personal level she feels very strongly about the many health benefits that the ocean can provide.

"In Ireland, I think we sometimes forget how lucky we are to be surrounded by the sea. It's only when you move away from living so close to the shore that you realise how beneficial the ocean can be for people's health, well-being and happiness. Try taking a dip in the ocean on a cold January afternoon, it really does clear the mind, dust off the cobwebs and leave you feeling like you can take on the world."