Here Comes McBride: A Biologist Returns to the Northeast
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May 05 2007 
Here Comes McBride
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A Biologist Returns to the Northeast

“Instigate, coordinate, facilitate” – that’s what Dr. Richard McBride has set out to do as the new chief of the NEFSC’s Population Biology Branch.

McBride came to Woods Hole in September to lead the NEFSC group charged with understanding the biology and ecology of marine life in Northeast U.S. waters. A research scientist who has worked on a variety of fishes, he didn’t expect to start by spending a lot of time with the nuts and bolts of fisheries science.

“First I had to connect with the staff,” McBride said. “My role as chief is to create an environment where the staff can work, and where other people can work with us – undergraduates, grad students, and post-docs who want to work with the data we have.”

Five months after arriving in Woods Hole, McBride has launched two “instigate-and-coordinate” efforts – one focusing on reproduction and the other on age.

The reproduction project is an effort to sharpen Center scientists’ ability to determine a fish’s reproductive status: has it reached sexual maturity? If so, has it spawned recently or is it about to spawn? Scientists at sea answer those questions by opening a fish and eyeballing its gonads, a difficult and sometimes imprecise process. The same questions can be answered with more confidence in the lab by examining cells under the microscope – work that McBride did with tropical fish in his previous job. McBride and the Population Biology staff are now evaluating the accuracy of their at-sea measurements of sexual maturity and developing new training procedures and reference materials that will be available to samplers who work aboard survey vessels. The chief himself is giving seminars on fish reproduction this spring at NEFSC laboratories in Woods Hole and Sandy Hook.

“We’re trying to make sure that when it comes to fish reproduction everyone is familiar with what’s happening under the hood,” McBride said. “I hope this point-of-attack will instigate more reproductive-related research throughout the Center.”

The aging project, which is just getting underway, is an effort to expand the Center’s fish age database by including more of the data that goes into determining each individual fish’s age. The expansion should allow scientists who need data about fish ages to get better, more varied and more detailed reports back from the database.

Like the reproduction project, the aging project cuts across Center divisions and branches. “There’s been a great cooperative spirit,” McBride said. “The participation of other branches has been very encouraging.”

McBride came to the Woods Hole from Florida, where he spent 12 years as a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission studying age, growth, and reproduction of various subtropical fishes. He also held a faculty position at the University of Florida, and served as an advisor to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

A southerner since 1994, McBride is an Illinois native with a Woods Hole connection. While doing his master’s degree work at Stony Brook University in the late 1980s, he sailed aboard the Delaware II on bluefish cruises. In the early 1990s, while doing his Ph.D. work on sea robins at Rutgers University, McBride went on NEFSC bottom trawl survey cruises.

McBride said his return to the northeast after more than a decade working on southern fish was a Rip Van Winkle experience. “I got to come back and see how the things we were working on turned out,” he said.

Before McBride’s arrival, Jay Burnett and Nancy Kohler each served as acting chief of the branch, a position formerly held by Frank Almeida, who left for the Center’s directorate in 2003. “They each did an excellent job of providing interim leadership,” said Wendy Gabriel, chief of the Fisheries and Ecosystems Monitoring and Assessment Division, in which Population Biology is housed.

“Richard came with an enthusiasm for fisheries biology and excellent experience overseeing research,” said Gabriel. “He now faces the challenge of maintaining a good research and support program in the face of shrinking resources, but that’s not unique to the Population Biology program. It is the same challenge all our programs face, and Richard has excellent people to work with.”

McBride agrees that the program he inherited is strong.

“The Population Biology program has produced quality publications over the years,” he noted. “There are very good people here working with a data-rich program.”

McBride earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Eckerd College, which launched him on a career of counting mosquito larvae for Cornell University, photographing fossil plants for the Field Museum of Natural History , and leading snorkeling trips in the Bahamas. In graduate and post-graduate years, he worked on various fish species of the northeast and southeast, studying how fast they grow and how long they live, where and when they reproduce, and who is eating whom.

“I bring first-hand knowledge of subtropical fishes,” McBride said, “and I’m enjoying being reintroduced to fishes of the northeast.”

The chance to explore new areas is part of what attracted McBride to the job in the northeast. “There are 20,000 species of fish,” he said. “I’m not going to get to work on all of them, but I’d like to work on a lot of them.”

McBride moved to Woods Hole with his wife, Susan, and their ten-year-old daughter. Susan also has Cape Cod connections, having done her master’s work at Nauset Marsh. The McBride family has settled temporarily in East Falmouth and is looking for a house where they will have room to garden.

“I love working in the yard,” McBride said. “In Florida I enjoyed taking out exotic trees and putting in native plants.” On the Cape, he plans to grow vegetables and perennials, and to spend some time on the water.

“I like fishing, and I used to sail competitively and swim competitively,” McBride said. “I don’t need to compete anymore, but I do like getting out on the water.”

Did the Florida transplant have any qualms about leaving the southern climate for the uncertain New England weather?

Not at all, McBride said. “In Florida, a lot of the time it was too hot to do anything outdoors.”

The family came north looking forward to winter sports – skiing and ice skating. Their first Cape winter hasn’t provided enough snow for skiing, but his daughter is skating at local rinks and hoping to get in some pond skating.

“She’s a Florida native,” McBride said, so she finds even a dusting of snow fascinating. “She volunteers to sweep it off cars and sidewalks.”

Posted February 7, 2007


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(File Modified Feb. 16 2007)