Faces of the Southeast Fisheries Science Center Series
Here we introduce the people who work at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center.
In this series, we feature a new "face" from the Center and share with you a bit about who they are and what they do here.
As a coordinator for the Reef Fish and Shrimp Observer Program, I am involved with almost every observer-related aspect of the program. My job is nonstop—even on the weekends. I conduct interviews during the hiring process, teach safety and protocol training, determine trip assignments, check data for quality control, debrief observers, and inventory gear. I also speak with vessel owners and captains to gauge fishing efforts and trip coverage for each quarter. I am helping to develop a tablet program for observers to collect data electronically which will allow for data to be entered in real time and reduce errors. I am also one of the electronic monitoring leads focusing on commercial shrimp vessels.
Research Fishery Biologist
Technically I’m a research fishery biologist, but I really consider myself a jack of all trades. I started as a lab technician focused on nekton and benthic sample collection and organism identification, which I’m able to get back into the lab to do occasionally. On the research side of things I develop and conduct projects that incorporate habitat ecology and community dynamics to assess effects on abundance and distribution patterns of fishery species. Lately I’ve been focused on changes to estuarine communities due to the climate change-induced range expansion of black mangroves in the northern Gulf. I’m heavily involved in queen conch research and continue to pursue projects that will contribute to our knowledge and management of the species. I’m also the vessel operations coordinator in Galveston, so I’m responsible for staff training and maintenance and repair of our boats, which is another aspect of my job that I really enjoy.
Matthew W. Johnson
Habitat Ecology Branch Chief
I am the Habitat Ecology Branch Chief and I help advance habitat science and connect habitat ecology to fishery management. We study corals, essential fish habitats, how inshore and offshore habitats are connected, a handful of protected species, and mapping. I also lead several research projects. One project maps coral reefs along the Florida Reef Tract, and another examines the habitat related impacts of expanding mariculture farms in the Gulf of Mexico.
Research Fishery Biologist
I am a member of the Sea Turtle Branch in the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division. We conduct research to better understand the population status, spatial ecology, demography, and human threats to sea turtles in the Southeast region. I began working with NOAA Fisheries in 1997 and have been lucky enough to participate in numerous types of research surveys over my career. My research has focused on sea turtle incidental captures by recreational anglers, sea turtle drift studies to determine how environmental conditions influence seasonal stranding variability, and sea turtle decomposition rates and their implications toward strandings. One of my current interests is incorporating the use of drones into inshore sea turtle population surveys.
I’m a part of the Southeast Fisheries Science Center’s growing communications team! Together we brainstorm new content ideas, update web pages, write news stories and blogs, and talk through ideas in meetings with people from all around the science center in an effort to get the amazing science being done out to the public. While we all share the workload, most of my tasks are centered around social media, outreach, web stories, blogs, and the development of special pieces like our quarterly newsletter Sea Notes!
Stock Assessment Scientist
I am a stock assessment analyst in the Gulf of Mexico Branch in the Sustainable Fisheries Division. Most of my time is spent modeling fisheries and fish population dynamics to estimate current and future stock abundance trends, and provide scientific advice to fisheries managers on the sustainability of fished stocks. I pursue collaborative research both nationally and internationally. I am currently interested in fish age and growth, tagging studies (including close kin mark-recapture) and their use in stock assessment, as well as linking population processes to environmental covariates in stock assessments. Additionally, I am heavily involved in improving scientific workflows and collaborations through open data science and automation.
My role as Observer Coordinator entails wearing many hats. Ultimately, my priority is to schedule and safely deploy fishery observers on commercial fishing vessels in our region and to ensure the data collected is of the highest quality. Our program covers various fisheries and gear types, including hook and line gear via rod and reel, bandit, and longline gears as well as shrimp trawl gear, both skimmer and otter trawls, working in shallow waters to depths exceeding 1,000 feet. I am approaching my 7-year anniversary of working with the center and I am nearing the 1-year anniversary of becoming an observer coordinator.
I am a NOAA affiliate working for the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies. My work mainly involves fieldwork preparation, data collection, data analysis, as well as writing manuscripts, reports, and grants. My current research aims to better understand beaked whales’ diving and calling behavior in the Gulf of Mexico using passive acoustic tracking, an alternative tool to tagging. This knowledge will be used to obtain more reliable and robust population density estimates from passive acoustics data. I am passionate about new technologies and how they can change the way we do research. As a drone enthusiast, I would love to expand this approach (or a similar one) in my research. Another exciting technology that we are currently interested in is uncrewed systems such as ocean gliders equipped with passive acoustic monitoring devices. These new platforms may help us to conduct dolphin and whale assessments in remote regions.
Research Fishery Biologist
I conduct research on fisheries habitat with students at Savannah State University. This research forms the basis of student training and supports the mission of our branch. Over the years, my research students and I have looked at the distribution of blue crab populations in Georgia tidal creeks, marsh dieback, and success in oyster reef restoration. We got interested in the human dimensions of fisheries, examined the prevalence of black gill in shrimp, and the perspective of shrimpers encountering the disease. This connection to the local community spread to more cultural work examining how Gullah Geechee communities participate in fisheries. Savannah State is also a Historically Black College and University (HBCU)—and the only one with a partnership with NOAA Fisheries. I also liaise between the center, university, the agency, and other entities who want to emulate and recreate the effectiveness of this unique partnership.
Chief of Staff for Science Planning and Operations
As the Chief of Staff for Science Planning and Operations, I support the leadership of the center by making recommendations and providing timely and informed guidance in support of the center's mission. I help ensure success of the center’s recent realignment and lead the evolving strategic planning process, aligning the strategic objectives and initiatives with budget planning and execution. I coordinate with Operations, Management, and Information Division to implement the annual budget planning process, Priority Based Resourcing, and ensure effective allocation of resources in alignment with annual guidance priorities.
I work with the small-but-mighty communications team. Our primary goal is to take the diverse complexity of science communications and translate it into language that the public understands. Each day I take the hard work that our scientists do at the center and get it known, as well as understood, by other stakeholders and the public. The team and I do this through talking with colleagues, creating web stories, social media posts, blogs, fact sheets, story maps, website updates, and other digital communications.
Oceanic and Coastal Pelagics Branch Chief
I serve as the Chief for the Oceanic & Coastal Pelagics Branch in the Population and Ecosystems Monitoring Division. I have the pleasure of working with nine outstanding scientists based primarily in Miami and Pascagoula. Our work includes the annual SEFSC Bottom Longline Survey, managing the Cooperative Tagging Program for highly migratory species, and conducting electronic tagging research on billfishes, tunas, sharks and rays. I started with the center in May of last year, so much of the past few months has entailed getting to better know our team.
Research Fishery Biologist
After college, I got a job at Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi putting on shows with dolphins and sea lions and eventually training them for 2 years. I started looking for other jobs and submitted my resume to the NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center located in Pascagoula, Mississippi. When the call came from NOAA, I was repairing and restoring antique furniture in an antique store specializing in English antiques on Magazine Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. Now, I am the senior video reader for the Gulf and Caribbean Reef Fish Branch. However, I have done a lot of different things in my career with NOAA since starting in May 1988.
In 2012, I began working for the center as an affiliate. My work entailed reef fish life history and data analysis for the Biology and Life History group whose work centered around fish species. Then in 2016 I was hired by the center to continue that work based out of the NOAA facility in Beaufort, North Carolina. Currently, my work centers around reef fish life history. I provide the data products to stock assessments, take part in surveys and I have been involved in multiple Marine Fisheries Initiative projects. Most recently, I completed a NOAA LANTERN detail as the chief of staff for the center.