So, you want to be a fish biologist …

(Or, you’re just curious about us)

It’s not your average commute. USFWS/Ryan Hagerty

While the other kids were dreaming about becoming the professionals they encountered and admired — their doctors and teachers, the veterinarians that fixed their dogs and cats, the firemen that visited their schools — we were spending our formative years dinking around in streams and fishing with our own familial idols. Or stumbling into fisheries departments in college and dropping our pre-vet dreams as we made new laid-back friends. Whatever the reason, we followed a lesser-known but very rewarding career path: fish biology!

Fish squeezer. Fish nerd. Fishhead. Fish tickler. Whatever you think of us, we can take it, because our jobs are pretty sweet. Photos: USFWS/Katrina Liebich
Hi, how was your day? It was awesome, I played with fish. That’s nice dear. You don’t mind washing your hands just one more time, right?…

What people think we do:

vs. what we actually do:

Actually, it’s usually somewhere in the middle! (Photo courtesy of ADF&G/Mark Eisenman)
We asked our #fishnerd facebook community what they thought of us. Compiled by USFWS/Katrina Liebich

Fisheries jobs have really diversified (both in scope and types of people entering the field) as environmental and allocation issues have become more complex and technologies have advanced.

While bearded, hatted men are common, more women are joining the ranks. Photo: USFWS/Katrina Liebich

Fish biologists tend to be well-grounded in the relevant -ologies: stream ecology, limnology, ichthyology, hydrology. We’re also pretty nerdy about statistics, the scientific method, and peer-review. The broader fisheries professional field now includes not just biology and management, but also genetics (stock apportionment anyone?), communications, fish-passage engineering, population dynamics and modeling, landscape ecology…the list goes on.

From genetics to fish passage engineering, there’s a place for you in fisheries. Photos: USFWS/Katrina Liebich

Out of necessity, fish biologists possess practical skills too:

“People are surprised at the amount of non-science work that‘s a part of these positions…like being able to change the oil on a boat, chop firewood, or dig an outhouse hole...”
It’s not going to dig itself. Camp toilet in remote Alaska. USFWS/Katrina Liebich
“The type of work we do in Alaska often includes working in extremely remote places only accessible by helicopter, float plane, boat or all-terrain vehicle. A lot of planning and coordination make it all come together. And a lot of training to make sure projects get completed and everyone comes home without any major injuries.”
Headed to camp deep within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to monitor early-run Chinook Salmon. Photos: USFWS/Katrina Liebich

Good people skills, a sense of humor, and lots of coffee also come in handy:

“Good people skills are extremely important when you’re isolated with very few crew mates for the summer.”
Embrace those numb wet hands with a great attitude, as demonstrated. Photo: USFWS/Katrina Liebich
“The hard work, camaraderie with your crew mates and the sense of accomplishment in meeting project objectives is very satisfying.”
An unexpected delivery is also very satisfying! Photo: USFWS
“Never underestimate the amount of coffee people can drink in two months. Buy what you think is enough, and then buy more…”
More coffee might be needed at our Selawik Sheefish camp. USFWS/Dan Prince
“When mother nature throws everything at you, that’s when your true character comes out and you can build lasting friendships, memories and skills you will carry forward in your career.”
Ezekiel Howard from Kwethluk, Alaska takes the plunge. After building character (and forming blisters) filling sandbags to secure a weir in Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, it’s important to maintain it for the entire salmon run so long-term counts can continue. Photo: USFWS/Ken Harper
In Alaska, conditions vary throughout the field season from icy (left, USFWS) to wet (right, USFWS/Katrina Liebich) and everything in between.

What do you like best about your job and working in Alaska?

“The opportunity to work in spectacular, pristine, remote locations that very few people ever have the opportunity to visit.”
“You can’t beat working in Alaska. There are so many different opportunities to work in some of the most unique and pristine environments in the world.”
Photo: USFWS/Ryan Hagerty
“The ecosystems and fisheries work in Alaska are both fascinating and breathtaking.”
“I’m always impressed with the passion and professionalism my colleagues bring to the job. Honestly, the people I get to work with have as much to do with my career satisfaction as my fisheries work.”
Photo: USFWS/Will Rice
“For me, the best thing about working in Alaska is the people and governance. Alaska Native cultures are all, to some degree, based on fishing, and today they’re claiming their rightful seats at the table in fisheries policy and decision-making. This is exciting!”
In Alaska, people still fish and preserve their fish the way their families have for generations. Photos: USFWS/Lisa Hupp
“It’s important work, and that’s something that you need to feel from any job you’re going to invest your time in.”

Seasonal fisheries technician positions in Alaska

These are for the adventurous as harsh weather, an abundance of biting insects, and remote living conditions can be challenging. However, the rare opportunity to work with intact assemblages of native fish species, while surrounded by abundant wildlife and pristine wilderness, will more than compensate the tolerant individual!

Bird enthusiasts, you can add a new species to your list— Alaska’s unofficial state bird is the mosquito. Photo: USFWS
A temporary base of operations for a fisheries project in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (yes, there are fish there!) Photo: USFWS/Katrina Liebich

What advice would you give someone applying to one of these positions or entering the field?

“It‘s worth it. You’ll never have an experience that will compare.”
Photo: USFWS/Katrina Liebich
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions! You’ll meet a tremendous variety of people when you work in fisheries in Alaska, and they all have different experiences and skills.“
“It’s important to play up the traits that make you a candidate — a great attitude, love of the outdoors, camping experience, a willingness to learn, good people and practical skills.”
Photo: USFWS/Katrina Liebich
“The relationships you build at the beginning of your career will reverberate through time and space. The cadre of fisheries professionals is surprisingly small, and you’ll be surprised how few degrees of separation there are between us, no matter where you work.”
Randy and Theresa after successfully tagging Dolly Varden in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to learn about their overwintering habitats. Photo: USFWS/John Wenburg
“Take every opportunity that comes your way to gain experiences in fisheries. The experience you gain, the places you go, and the people you meet will have a lasting effect on your career and life.”

If selected, you will initially report to one of three duty stations: our Fairbanks, Kenai and Anchorage Fish & Wildlife Conservation Offices. However, projects are located throughout the state, including extremely remote areas in the Alaskan bush. Travel to field camps includes small aircrafts, boats, and all-terrain vehicles.

Getting there:

Projects include (but aren’t limited to):

  • monitoring salmon runs using fish weirs, digital video equipment, and sonar
  • conducting abundance estimates of resident fish species
  • documenting fish movement using radio telemetry and PIT tags
  • Inventorying fish habitat

Appointments are three to six months. Hourly wages are ~$15–21/hour plus a cost of living adjustment depending on duty station. The application period for 2018 crew member and crew leader positions is 12/22/17–1/05/18 on www.usajobs.gov. We encourage you to contact us:

FAIRBANKS: Matthew_Keyse@fws.gov / (907) 456–0418

KENAI: Kenneth_Gates@fws.gov / (907) 260–0126

ANCHORAGE: Jonathon_Gerken@fws.gov / (907) 271–2776

It’s never too early to set your sights on fish biology!

Yes you! We know there are lots of amazing jobs out there, but we want you to know, no matter where you live, there are probably fish nearby. They can enrich your life and they need your attention. And healthy fisheries are worth billions of dollars to the US economy. Photos: USFWS/Katrina Liebich

Katrina Liebich is the Alaska Fisheries Outreach Coordinator for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Contact her at Katrina_Liebich@fws.gov/(907) 786–3637

In Alaska we are shared stewards of world renowned natural resources and our nation’s last true wild places. Our hope is that each generation has the opportunity to live with, live from, discover and enjoy the wildness of this awe-inspiring land and the people who love and depend on it.

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