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
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.
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
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
a Rip Van Winkle experience. “I got to come
back and see how the things we were working on turned out,” he
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
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
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
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
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.”
February 7, 2007