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Meet Nick Hopkins, Fisheries Method and Equipment Specialist

November 07, 2022

As part of the Faces of the Southeast Fisheries Science Center series, meet Nick Hopkins.

Nick Hopkins holding a Lookdown on the Oregon 2 while assisting with sampling on a research survey. Nick Hopkins holding a lookdown (Selene vomer) while assisting in sampling fish on the Oregon II during a survey. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Portland, Maine.

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

I started school at Southern Maine Technical College where I earned an associate degree in Applied Marine Biology and Oceanography, and another associate degree in Environmental Technology. Years later, I went back to school at The State University of New York in Stony Brook for a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and a minor in Marine Biochemistry.

Nick Hopkins and another scientist trawl diving on cable grids.
Nick Hopkins and colleague trawl diving on a cable grid. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries

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

After working in the commercial fishing industry in the Gulf of Maine multispecies trawl fishery, I changed careers and became a fisheries observer on Hawaiian longline vessels. Later, I worked on Florida shark drift net vessels. While observing, I applied for a position with the science center’s Harvesting Unit, now known as the Gear and Vessel Support Branch. For more than 20 years now, I have been a gear specialist. 

What do you do at the science center?

Nick Hopkins preparing for a trawl dive in his gear.
Nick Hopkins preparing for a trawl dive. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

I help maintain, fabricate, and supply gear for the Southeast Fisheries Science Center’s bottom longline and trawl surveys. As a gear technician and NOAA diver I evaluate trawl gear configurations for the Gear and Vessel Support Branch. I help test and develop new designs that are incorporated into commercial fishing gear to help protect sea turtles, marine mammals, and large sharks. I also assist in developing sorting grids that could function as Turtle Excluder Devices. These sorting grids are made of wire rope and are used with large fish trawls in conjunction with net reels. Recently, I was asked to assist in developing, adapting, and introducing ropeless gear into trap fisheries. This ropeless gear works with buoy lines in areas where North Atlantic right whales are present, reducing entanglement risk due to fewer lines. 

What do you like most about your position?

I have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of fishing communities and fishermen. I get to do this mostly through outreach and workshops where I share new regulations and changes to gear and its design. The environment reminds me of home where I grew up in a commercial fishing family during a time when fishing was cool. Compassion for the commercial fishing industry helps keep the lines of communication open, even when the information is not always or initially welcomed. These conversations often end with a few fishing stories and an open invitation back.   

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

Be patient. NOAA needs young people ready for work and adventures. I work with a very skilled team who will retire one day. It is important to pass on this knowledge to a younger generation. To work in my field, I found that working as an observer is the best path towards collecting important skills as a fishery biologist. Paying attention to the fishery and the gear you work with will help create a good foundation as a gear technician. 

Nick Hopkins and Sunrise Team posing on the ship for the bottom longline survey.
Nick Hopkins (left) and other scientists from the sunrise crew on the bottom longline survey. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/ Ellie Hartman

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

I always like Hemingway. It is hard to beat fishing and adventure stories. I think Hemingway would have liked working with fishing gear. I have seen more than 20 countries as a Turtle Excluder Device inspector and spent a lot of time fishing. 

My favorite quote is by Thomas Huxley: “Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not.” 

What do you like to do outside of work?

My favorite thing to do is watch my son grow up.

Nick Hopkins with his child in Portland, Maine with lighthouse in background.
Nick Hopkins and his son, Orion, at the Portland Head Lighthouse in June 2018. Photo courtesy of Nick Hopkins.

Contact Nick



Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on February 27, 2023