My name is Kate Songer, I’m a junior with a Conservation Biology major, and French minor from Shelburne, Vermont. Because of the donations from the France-Merrick Pinkard Fund for International Study from Ms. Jena B. Pinkard, Mr. and Mrs. Peter M. Pinkard, and Ms. Caitlin M. Pinkard, I was able to travel to a remote island in New Zealand to study an endemic species of fish during the fall 2017 semester. Because of my travel grant, I was able to stay on a research vessel for 5 days where I aided in a Graduate student’s long-term research of tag and recapture method to observe the Blue Cod population within the Paterson’s Inlet of Stewart Island. Here, I also go to sit in on a local town meeting and hear the opinion of local fishermen as they attempted to work with researchers in the area. Together, they discussed the boundaries of the Mātaitai Reserve, a conservation effort that fishermen and researchers work together to promote healthy fish populations for future generations. The particular research that I was involved in was a continuation of research that determined an approximate population of Blue cod in the Paterson Inlet for the 2017 year, which we ultimately determined that the population was in good standing and likely growing, due to the Mātaitai Reserve.
Blue cod is an iconic species of the South Island of New Zealand, ranking at the 3rd most popular recreational fish of New Zealand. It’s astonishing blue colors and light, flakey flavor explains its popularity. Blue cod, or as the Māori would call it, rāwaru, are bottom dwellers that can live up to 32 years. Not only did I learn about the conservation efforts and particular limitations of the Mātaitai of that area, but also the morphology and behavior of the fish. I got a priceless perspective of the struggles of a fisherman, and their desire to work with scientists but also make a living for themselves. I learned that often fishermen will steer away from aiding in research efforts. They fear that if research is not performed accurately, misguiding results will force them to reduce their allowable catch, and as a result harming their livelihood. It’s a researcher’s job to communicate and assure accurate scientific work in order to work in harmony with local communities. Before, as a Conservation Biologist, my mind had only been able to think from a scientist’s perspective as to what the effects of research have on a community. As I continue my independent studies and work in marine conservation efforts, this invaluable experience will allow me to keep an open mind to those affected by the potential research I will do, how I can communicate better with them, as well as how I can work alongside them to promote a healthy marine environment for future generations.