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Meet Larry Alade, Research Fisheries Biologist

February 27, 2019

Each month we feature a new "face" from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center's five laboratories and share with you a bit about who they are, what they do at the Center, and what they enjoy doing in their spare time.

Larry Alade holding a goosefish with it's mouth open over blue bins.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and about the age six, my family moved back to their home country in Nigeria. I spent most of my formative childhood years growing up in Ile-Ife, a small ancient city of the Yoruba tribe located in the southwestern region of Nigeria. Because of the political and economic instability in Nigeria, my family decided to moved back to the United States to Brooklyn, New York during the early 1990s, where I completed high school.

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

After completing high school at age 16, I headed south to the University of Maryland College Park to pursue a degree in biological sciences intending to become a neurologist. Little did I know my interest would evolve after taking a course in calculus as a sophomore in Maryland. I developed a keen interest in mathematics and statistics which eventually altered my academic path. However, I ended up staying in the biological sciences lane, which I wished I had reconsidered back in time.

Upon completion of my undergraduate degree, I was every parent’s perfect dream child—I was completely uncertain about my future after spending four years earning a degree. So I decided to take a couple of gap years to work on data processing in the IT field. Through this experience I was able to redirect my focus and consider a degree in computer programming. In 2000, I was accepted into a master’s degree program in applied computer science at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Unfortunately the job market after graduation wasn’t the greatest and I again needed to reevaluate my career choice. During this time I was still at UMES and I learned about a unique internship opportunity jointly hosted by the Science Center and Jackson State University. Students complete a four-week course in stock assessments at JSU followed by a six-week hands-on experience at a NOAA research facility.

The summer of 2003, I interned at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Woods Hole Lab. My mentor Dr. Steven Cadrin suggested that I pursue a career in fisheries. I enjoyed the work I was doing during my internship and with their encouragement and support I was able to enter a Ph.D. program in Marine Estuary and Environmental Sciences at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. During my doctoral degree, I learned about, applied for, and was accepted into NOAA’s Educational Partnership Program, Graduate Sciences Program, which recruited and hired talented individuals who are in school or have recently received a degree. This was an excellent opportunity for me and it allowed me to take two years of my course work at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and spend my summers and research semesters at the Woods Hole Lab. My Ph.D. dissertation focused on developing and testing a spatially-explicit simulation computer model that evaluates yellowtail flounder movement. The model used data collected from mark-recapture studies conducted by the Science Center’s Cooperative Research Program.

Can you tell us a little about how you came to the Science Center?

I first came to the Science Center as an intern after my master’s degree in applied computer science. I later returned to the Science Center while earning my doctoral degree. After finishing my Ph.D., the Science Center hired me in 2008 to work for the Population Dynamics Branch assessing groundfish stock in our region. I’ve been here ever since.

What do you do at the Science Center?

My primary role as research fisheries biologist is to investigate and develop scientific tools to assess the health of fish populations in the region to inform and advise the federal fishery management process. This involves studying and monitoring changes in fish abundance, distribution and demographics (i.e. size, age, sex etc.), measuring and quantifying impacts of fishing activity and understanding biological and physical processes within the ecosystem that contribute to the observed changes in the fishery resource. Within my role, I have been fortunate to be given the opportunity to lead several of the major groundfish stock assessments in the region including those for two yellowtail flounder stocks in the Cape Cod Gulf of Maine region and in the Southern New England-Mid Atlantic, for American plaice, and for the northern and southern silver hake stocks. I am also the Science Center lead assessment representative to the New England Fishery Management Council on the small mesh groundfish planning development team. Building on my stock assessment responsibilities domestically, I am actively involved with a committee for the International Council for Exploration of the Sea that provides advisory services for over 200 European Union fish stocks. I have also had the fortune to engage as an independent reviewer on a number of stock assessment reviews and recently chaired the assessment review for number of anglerfish stocks. In addition to my scientific endeavors, I continue to support activities relative to diversity and inclusion in the workplace and I have had the pleasure to provide mentorship to students and staff from a range of backgrounds.

What you like most about your position?

The work we do has a direct impact on livelihoods and communities and it’s important to me to contribute to this process. Personally, I enjoy the inherent complexity involved in developing a stock assessment. It is challenging and can be frustrating at the same time, yet somehow rewarding. As once described to me, “Stock assessment is not rocket science, but more complicated.” Estimating how many fish are there in the ocean isn’t an exact science. There are so many dimensions to the sources of data informing the models with varying degrees of uncertainties to be accounted for, if possible. Working with federal managers and other end-users of the science to navigate all the complexities from an assessment to arrive at the best plausible outcome can be gratifying. Besides just assessing groundfish stocks, I enjoy the interactions across various scientific disciplines. More recently, I have had the opportunity to be exposed to  other interesting areas of research work, particularly in understanding some of the potential linkages and mechanisms between the physical environment and productivity of fish resources. Because the tools for stock assessments are constantly evolving, I get to learn new skills and techniques that continue to improve the efficiency and quality of our scientific products. I really like that. Lastly, the greatest joy of my career is the mentorship opportunities I have, both as a mentor and a mentee at the Science Center.

What are some of your hobbies?

As a parent of three young children, the reality is that I have very little time to really adopt a hobby. However, I am always looking for creative opportunities to live vicariously through my children. One of the things I enjoy in my “copious free time” is the art of cooking and exploring various types of recipes from different cultures. Lately, I have been exploring ways to create healthy recipes. My kids have somewhat been reliable guinea pigs and I have yet to send anyone to the ER.

I really enjoy the idea of thinking about exercising. Although I haven’t been active as I should in recent years, you may catch me once a year participating in the annual Rugged Maniac 5K obstacle course. I’ve also had the pleasure to coach soccer and basketball. As my children have grown older, I’ve re-energized my interest in playing basketball. More recently, I have been participating in weekly pick-up co-ed games on Friday evenings with a great group of men and women. Over the last year or so, both my boys became members of the Cub Scouts, involuntarily, and little did I know about the level of parental involvement. Yes, I initially regretted the idea of exploring Cub Scouts, but with time, I grew to enjoy being active in the organization. Ironically, I now serve as treasurer of the Cub Scout pack in Mashpee. Finally, I enjoy date nights with my beautiful wife who, after 13 years of marriage, still finds what I do for a living fascinating—I think.