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Meet Clay Porch, Director

October 03, 2022

As part of the Faces of the Southeast Fisheries Science Center series, meet Dr. Clay Porch, Southeast Fisheries Science Center Director.

Clay Porch hiking mountains in Virginia. Clay Porch celebrates a hike to the top of a mountain in Virginia. One of his favorite activities outside of work is to hike in the mountains. Photo courtesy of Clay Porch

Where did you grow up? 

I was born in Fort Benning, Georgia, but I have lived in South Florida and the Keys since I was 2 years old. Miami has been my home for the last 40 years. 

Where did you go to school and in what subject did you get your degree(s)?

Clay Porch Freedives at the Christ of the Abyss
Clay Porch freediving at the Christ of the Abyss. Photo courtesy of Clay Porch

My undergraduate education was at the University of Miami where I double-majored in Marine Science and Biology. I then was accepted into the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science where I earned a Master’s Degree in Marine Biology and Fisheries and later, a Doctorate in Biological and Physical Oceanography. 

How did you come to work at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center?

While still a graduate student, I worked with Dr. Peter Ortner at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanic and Meteorological Laboratory, and with Dr. Steve Turner at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center. I enjoyed both positions, but decided that the best option for me was to pursue a career in fisheries stock assessment. With the threat of a hiring freeze looming, I accepted a stock assessment position in Dr. Turner’s branch about 6 months before I earned my doctoral degree.

Clay Porch on a boat near Key Biscayne, Miami, Florida.
Dr. Clay Porch and coworkers take a boat to the Cape Florida Lighthouse on Key Biscayne, Miami, Florida. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

What do you do at the science center?

I am the Director of the Southeast Fisheries Science Center. I often tell people that I used to determine how many fish were in the sea and how many we can catch while still leaving enough for the future, but now I just send emails about it. Really, I oversee the operations and research conducted by 350 people, at six main facilities in what is arguably the most complex region of the country. I am responsible for planning, administering, and evaluating a dizzying array of multidisciplinary programs in support of our mission to provide the scientific advice and data needed to effectively manage the living resources of the Southeast Region and the Atlantic high seas.

What do you like most about your position?

Hands down, I like the people. I feel very fortunate to work with so many talented folks at our center. I want to make it a place where everyone feels welcome and empowered to excel. I also am excited about the opportunity to bring the center into the 21st century by conducting state-of-the-art science, adopting sound business practices and refocusing our resources on core mission activities.

What advice would you have for someone interested in a career at NOAA Fisheries?

Regardless of who you work for, it is important to choose a field that you enjoy and are passionate about. That way, even if the circumstances around you are less than ideal, you can still find fulfillment in the work you do. If you are thinking about a career in public service, then you should also consider whether you are ready to embrace being a public servant. If you want a career in marine science and conservation that directly affects the lives of millions of people, NOAA Fisheries is the place for you.

Is there a book, quote, or person that influenced you to be the person that you are today? Tell us why.

There are so many it is hard to pick one. Among people, my greatest influence was my father, who taught me the importance of perseverance and the pursuit of excellence. Among books, the Bible, which taught me the importance of faith. And among quotes, one from my favorite president, Abraham Lincoln, “You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.”

Clay Porch and his family in Christmas Sweaters in Miami, Florida.
Clay and his family showing their festive spirit in their Christmas sweaters. Photo courtesy of Clay Porch

What do you like to do outside of work? 

My favorite things to do include anything that involves my wife and five children. Soon I will be a grandfather of a baby boy, so I can add him to the list! Beyond that, I enjoy scuba diving, hiking in the mountains, whitewater kayaking, fishing, and growing plants—especially fruit trees, rare palm trees, and cycads.

Contact Clay Porch 

Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on October 04, 2022