Pelagic Scientific and Technical Officer

Graham Johnston– Pelagic Scientific and Technical Officer

What section and service area do you work in?

Pelagic Section, Fisheries Ecosystems Advisory Services 

Third level qualifications and career development 

I completed a BSc. in Zoology in University College Cork, after which I undertook a MSc. in Wildlife Management in the University of Reading.  I gained essential sea-time experience by working on a project on the bycatch of dolphins in tuna gillnet fisheries in Cork for UCC. I also volunteered on a dolphin census in the Shannon area and in a laboratory carrying out post-mortems on stranded dolphins.  I then took up a position as a Fisheries Assessment Technician with the Marine Institute. The position was based in Dunmore East, Co. Waterford, and I worked as an observer on commercial fishing boats. After four years in this position, I transferred to the facility in Galway and worked in the aging laboratories for two years before taking up my current role.  

What are your main responsibilities?

Fisheries Ecosystems Advisory Services conducts a number of fisheries surveys each year and the data collected is used to provide information on stock management to the government, EU and international agencies. I typically lead or participate in three acoustic surveys per year, which usually last 3 weeks each. These surveys monitor the stock levels of blue whiting, herring or boarfish.

On-shore, I work closely with colleagues from other countries at working groups for the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. My main stocks of interest are elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays) around Ireland. Most people don't realise how many species of sharks there are in our waters. I'm responsible for compiling the scientific data available for these species from Irish fisheries and surveys. At the working groups, I then collect similar data from other countries that fish in Irish waters, and use the combined data to analyse the state of these stocks, and make recommendations as to what fishing levels should be set at in future years.

I have an interest in interactions of other species with fisheries, so I liaise with NGOs such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and Birdwatch Ireland on bycatch and survey work.
Fisheries Ecosystems Advisory Services produces the Stock Book annually. We begin work on the Stock Book in August. Compiling and analysing data from surveys and other sources becomes a major element of my daily work until it is published each November.

What are the most interesting aspects of your job?

I really love going to sea. When I went to sea for the first time whilst working with UCC, I was lucky enough to see a wide variety of wildlife – an experience I look forward to every time I work on our research vessels. As I work with a number of international group and agencies, I often travel abroad to work with international research teams on different stock assessments. I enjoy networking with other researchers and learning about the latest projects and data trends.  

Why do you think the work of Marine Institute is so important?

We can only manage our marine resources in the future by knowing what is going on in the sea now. It is important to understand the impact of changes in the environment and how other countries are utilising their own resources as well as accessing Irish resources. Fisheries Ecosystems Advisory Services also works closely with the fishing industry. As the Marine Institute plays a key role in making recommendations to government, based on scientific research regarding fisheries management, I think our relationship with industry and international researchers will become even more important.

What are your best career tips for someone in your area?  

Networking is very important so talk to people in your area!  Sea-going experience is essential; volunteering is a great way to get both practical work and sea-time experience. Volunteering is also another way to build good relationships with your industry.  The annual Summer bursary positions offered by the Marine Institute include positions in fisheries and are an ideal way to get first-hand experience of working in this area.