Kathryn Ford is now leading the center’s Population and Ecosystems Monitoring and Analysis Division. She is replacing Wendy Gabriel who retired in 2021 after 38 years with NOAA Fisheries.
This division executes a massive data acquisition, management, and analysis effort. It includes scientific ecosystem surveys on vessels operated by NOAA, universities, other national oceanographic laboratories, and fishing vessels. The team also analyzes biological trends in important fishery species. It conducts biological studies to understand how a range of ecosystem factors influence the growth and health of important fishery species.
Ford comes with a great respect for the work she will manage. “I believe in the science that this particular team brings to the table,” said Ford. “This division’s data collection and analysis are central to what the center does. They are the basis for all the other analyses.”
Ford comes to NOAA Fisheries after a career filled with multidisciplinary work in coastal and ocean science at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. Initially hired there to pilot a remotely operated towed vehicle in a conservation engineering study, she eventually rose to lead the division’s fisheries habitat program.
Trained as an oceanographer, Ford has applied those skills to coastal and ocean planning, artificial reefs and eelgrass restoration, aquaculture, and offshore wind energy development. She served on:
- The first state joint task force to work with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on wind energy areas off Massachusetts and Rhode Island
- The Northeast Regional Ocean Council
- The New England Fishery Management Council’s Habitat Plan Development Team
From A Shack on the Beach to An Ocean Science Career
So what drew a kid from Winchester, Massachusetts into a career in ocean science? A sixth-grade trip to the New England Aquarium. “I was hooked, although at first I wanted to be a dolphin trainer,” she said. She chose the University of Rochester for her undergraduate degree since it required her to travel to a series of marine labs. After graduation, she “wanted to live in a shack on a beach.” And that’s what she did for 3 years, while working at a field station on Andros Island in the Bahamas.
In addition to living her beach-dwelling dreams, Ford was a research assistant for a range of visiting ocean researchers. She spent a lot of time on reef monitoring projects. This proximity to marine science gave her a deeper understanding of the value of data in making decisions to manage marine resources. Her passion for better understanding the oceans propelled her to the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. There, she had a hand in studies that included a wide variety of sampling methods, from clamming, lobstering, and fyke netting to side-scan sonar and sediment coring.
From Scientist to Science Leader
Ford is still interested in hands-on research and her focus over time has been on technologies that can help unlock the ocean’s secrets. “I am fascinated by how hard it still is to see things in the ocean. Sometimes it is just feet away and we still can’t see it. How do we figure out what is important, what matters? Technology will be key to improving what we know. I love technology—drones, cameras, remote sensing. Putting tech together with more traditional sampling approaches is my dream job.”
Despite that interest, Ford said that in recent years the arc of her professional life has bent toward leading teams. “Over time I realized that if I could manage the scientific work effectively we could go further. I was really engaged in learning more about managing people and productivity, transitioning to virtual work, figuring out how to deal with distractions like the onslaught of email, and communication challenges. I could see that I was transitioning away from fieldwork and into leadership.”
When the opportunity to apply for a leadership position with the center arose, she was ready. “I am excited to work in a leadership team that puts people first and wants this organization to be the best place to work in NOAA Fisheries.”
Vision for the Future
Ford hopes to do nothing less than continue to provide the best marine resource monitoring programs on Earth. Some of the challenges will include:
- Advancing surveys as offshore wind farms are developed
- Improving maintenance and accessibility of data
- Ensuring the long-standing tradition of high quality data acquisition
Ford also hopes to expand and improve communications across her division and with partners and stakeholders in the region. “I really believe in what the team is doing, and that these data are foundational to what the center does and what fishery managers need. I want others to understand and value it as much as I do.”
Ford lives in Dartmouth, Massachusetts with her husband Chris, two teenage sons, two cats, and two boats.