Andrew Jones Leads Effort to Apply Industry-Collected Data to Scientific Problems

August 18, 2020

A life-long traveler settles into New England to focus on bringing fishermen and scientists together to develop fishery science and monitoring for the 21st Century

Andrew Jones and family in an outdoor forest setting.

Andrew Jones was deep into an explanation of why pushing the boundaries of knowledge often involves interacting with people who have different ideas. He paused to sip his coffee, then his face changed from affable to deeply serious. He jumped from his chair, and moved out of the video conference frame.  

Five seconds later he popped back into view to explain. He had to make a quick course correction for his youngest daughter who is learning to crawl.  

“I'm afraid she's going to flip over backwards on her head. It's like, just be safe!” he said.

A thoughtful explanation, coffee after a run, and a teleconference baby cameo appearance crammed into these 30 seconds sum up Jones’ daily routine over the last few months. In a way, they’re also indicative of his approach to his new job: kindness and curiosity, led by analytical thinking.

Andrew, who goes by Andy, joined the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Cooperative Research Branch as fishery biologist in March. He now leads the branch's research projects that depend on working directly with the fishing industry. His goal is to advance the application and usefulness of data the branch collects with commercial fishermen. He also wants to develop new projects that can address scientific and fishing industry needs.

“I am excited to work with Andy to expand our collaborations both within the center, and with the cooperative research community in the region,” said Anna Mercer, chief of the Cooperative Research Branch. “As time goes on, Andy will be an amazing resource to our industry partners—give Andy an observation to explain or a question to answer and he’ll get right on it!”

Growing Up Outdoors

Jones and his brother were raised in Fairfax, California in Marin County. He credits his parents with getting him excited about science and nature, and he embraced their adventurous spirits. Surrounded by the hills and fog of Northern California offered the Jones family plenty of opportunities to explore local trails. Living on a peninsula lent the family access to the water.

“We had a 27-foot race boat called Moonshine. I can remember doing ‘beer-can’ boat races on Wednesday nights, going out as just a little kid,” he said. ”Growing up I was mostly focused on lots of sports and getting outside. We would often go up to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, or other quiet spots in California like the Pinnacles or the Marin Headlands for camping and hiking.”

Jones also recognizes the strong influence his mother had on his future career. She emphasized intellectual as well as physical pursuits. She integrated science into family expeditions by bringing along nature guides to identify plants and animals. Neither parent had taken a science course since high school, but each had a strong love of natural history. They persistently encouraged the boys to be high academic achievers.  

Academics

Jones was always eager to explore and see the world. His small, “quirky” college prep high school offered regular camping and hiking outings. He also took advantage of cultural exchanges and summer programs during which he visited Japan, Laos, Thailand, and Mongolia.

As a Cornell undergraduate, Jones first gravitated toward Asian studies. After recalling his love of the outdoors and his success and interest in high school biology, he settled on a natural resources major.

Jones found his niche in ecology and evolutionary biology. During his junior year he studied in Queensland, Australia. That is where Jones got his first taste of applied knowledge, something he would come back to when choosing a career.

“We were going out to do electroshock sampling and plankton net tows, and while out there you'd see really cool stuff. There'd be cassowaries and large saltwater crocodiles and it's like, ‘Oh, this is a pretty cool gig. I could get into this.’”

Returning to the United States, Jones used the data he had collected to produce a senior thesis and started thinking about what was next.

A live steelhead salmon in shallow  water with a tag on its upper back

One of Andy’s tagged steelhead salmon. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Andrew Jones

 

First NOAA Job

After graduating Jones worked for Reed Mariculture, the world's largest producer of marine microalgae concentrates. Jones said luck helped him to his next position, citing a sudden opening as leading to his first job with NOAA. 

Jones joined the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Santa Cruz, California, where he helped with endangered populations of steelhead and coho salmon. “As a technician you are generally tasked with conducting science designed by others; however, this group treated me as a collaborator, and as a result I was able to really engage in the conceptual side of the science and start to think about ecological systems in a new way,” he said. This was great practice in thinking about how to sample and analyze data needed to understand these larger systems.

In 2008, Jones started his doctoral research at Yale’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. There, his work focused on ecological and genetic variation among alewives, starting in the lab at the same time as two other students. Jones said he was again “blessed with fantastic collaborators” and an environment that helped him mature as a scientist. 

a group of migrating alewives just under a calm, clear river surface

Migrating alewives in the Coonamessett River, Falmouth Massachusetts. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Andrew Jones

 

“Having other new students join at the same time was a little intimidating, but in retrospect was perhaps the best thing that could have happened,” recalled Jones. “I had immediate access to experts who had really thought deeply about aquatic ecosystems and helped me understand complex topics like biodiversity ecosystem function and predator-prey cycles. Also, I had built-in help when I wanted to conduct field experiments!”

Jones took a post-doctoral position at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution investigating survival and growth of early life-stage river herring. “At WHOI I knew I wanted to do something a little more applied, so I cast a wide net. I worked during the day in the field and lab, and in the evenings would volunteer with groups doing wetlands restoration and education.” By the time Jones left WHOI, he felt excited to see some tangible progress on conservation projects, like river restorations, that had real practical benefits.  

Landing at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center 

After being introduced to the complex interactions of people and environment that are involved in commercial fisheries, Jones wanted to learn more. He accepted a contract position at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Fisheries Sampling Branch. That branch manages several programs that collect critical data used to monitor fisheries, assess fish populations, set fishing quotas, and inform management.

At the Fisheries Sampling Branch Jones helped develop the electronic monitoring program and directed research projects using the data maintained and collected by the branch. Electronic monitoring is a developing set of technologies that will allow sensors and imaging devices to collect a range of data about fishing operations. Some of these data fishermen now record and track manually. Jones had a large dataset to explore and colleagues who were excited to do novel investigations of the data.  

“I felt like I was drinking from the fire hose, both in terms of just the practical aspects of management and to some degree fishery science too. I really enjoyed working with the people there and working on electronic monitoring, to have an ability to pursue research questions, and to be learning new things all the time,” Jones said of his time there.

To help better understand the practical aspects of electronic monitoring, Jones  got involved with another center program, the Cooperative Research Branch’s study fleet. Fishermen in the study fleet collect high quality, self-reported data on fishing effort, area fished, gear characteristics, catch, and biological observations. It was the perfect data set to use while working through questions about how a larger scale electronic monitoring program could work.

Jones’ new position encompasses his contract work and more. He is focused on applying the fisheries data collected over the past 15 years by the Cooperative Research Branch and its partners to answer questions posed both by scientists and fishermen. He’ll call on his earlier work to develop and apply catch-per-unit-effort analyses for a variety of species and explore environmental drivers and habitat dynamics. He’ll apply fishery data to understand the potential impacts of offshore wind development on fishing operations. He now leads the effort to analyze and publish recent research conducted through a fishing industry panel to improve data collected during the federal bottom-trawl survey conducted since 1963. 

When asked, Jones is likely to chalk his success up to luck. More likely, his success is a product of working well with others and applying a methodical and thorough approach to solving problems that has been informed by a lifetime of learning.

For more information, please contact Giovanni Gianesin.

Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on August 19, 2020