Kevin Hill

Year finished at Moss Landing:  1986

Lab while at Moss Landing:  Ichthyology

Undergraduate education:  B.S. in Marine Biology, CSU Long Beach, 1982

Other graduate degrees:  Ph.D. in Zoology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1992

Current job position and location:  Research Fishery Biologist, National Marine Fisheries Service, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, La Jolla, California

Contact information:  http://swfsc.noaa.gov//staff.aspx?Division=FRD&id=610


Some Questions for Kevin:

Q: Why did you decide to pursue marine science/come to Moss Landing?

A: Science, biology in particular, caught my interest at an early age.  I was SCUBA certified in high school, and made many trips from Modesto to dive off Monterey and Carmel. I quickly became fascinated with marine life, and it was during that time I decided to study marine biology in college. I applied to CSU Long Beach’s undergraduate program in Marine Biology and attended there from 1977 to 1982.  A couple of years before finishing at Long Beach, I began to think about where I might want to attend graduate school.  One of my undergraduate professors told me about Moss Landing Marine Labs and encouraged me to apply.  I was attracted to Moss Landing because it was located on Monterey Bay (where I was first inspired by marine life), it had a ‘small town’ feel (about 8 faculty and 100 students at that time), and it was located in a quaint fishing port.  Moreover, I’d become a firm believer in the CSU system — CSU faculty are great because they place a stronger emphasis on quality of teaching than some ‘research first’ universities.

Q:    What did you do your thesis on and why do you find it interesting/important?

A:  For my Master’s thesis at Moss Landing, I studied the age and growth of Pacific blue marlin (Makaira mazara). Blue marlin can grow to very large sizes (up to 1,800 pounds!) and are found across the tropical oceans of the world.  They’re highly-prized by recreational anglers, but are also captured in large number by various commercial tuna fisheries. Before we can understand how fisheries might impact marlin populations, we first need to know basic facts about their life history.  For example, how long do they live, how fast do they grow, do males and females grow the same?

To figure this out, we had to collect various bone structures from marlin and find out which ones have the best features (similar to tree rings) for determining age.  My advisor, Dr. Greg Cailliet, and I made several trips to collect these structures at billfishing tournaments in Kona, Hawaii, (yes, field research can require personal sacrifices). After many days of collecting, cutting, grinding, and examining samples from all sizes of marlin, I had enough information to develop my thesis. My thesis was a comparison of the quality of four different hard part types for determining age, and I was also able to develop a growth curve that describes the relationship between size and age for male and female marlin.  From this work, I found that blue marlin grow quickly and can live up to 26 years of age. Female marlin grow faster and larger than male marlin.

Q:    What did you go on to after graduation?

A:  Upon graduating from Moss Landing, I moved to Honolulu to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of Hawaii. My doctoral research focused on developing a new method for determining age of marine animals by measuring chemical byproducts that accumulate as they get older. I looked at the effect of the environment (temperature, light, food) on the way these chemicals accumulate. After completing the Ph.D., I moved back to California to work as a postdoctoral researcher for the L.A. County Museum of Natural History.  Two years later, I was hired as a marine biologist by the California Department of Fish and Game, moving to San Diego to work at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. In 2003, the National Marine Fisheries Service hired me to work in my present position, described below.

Q:    What do you do now (if different from above?) Please describe your job and the highlights/challenges of your work.

A:  My current job title is ‘Research Fishery Biologist’ with the National Marine Fisheries Service, and I am a ‘full-time, permanent’ civil servant of the federal government. My present job focuses on studying fish populations along the west coast of the United States. The populations I study, specifically Pacific sardine and Pacific mackerel, support large commercial fisheries off California, Oregon, and Washington (not to mention Mexico and Canada). These species also play a very important ecological role as forage for larger fish, marine mammals, and birds. The fisheries for these species are managed though a federal ‘fishery management plan’. In order to allow fisheries to catch fish each year, we are required to determine the population status and make a recommendation as to what portion may be safely removed.  This process of fish population analysis is called ‘stock assessment’, and this is my main job.

I perform two ‘stock assessments’ each year, one for sardine and one for mackerel, and present the results to the Pacific Fishery Management Council and their scientific and industry committees.  Stock assessment involves gathering all of the available information from the fishery (for example, how many tons were caught by the fishery, and what were the sizes and ages of the captured fish), and from research surveys which monitor the population from year to year and track trends in abundance.  I compile all of this information and input it into a computer model that estimates the population size and trend. Once I have these estimates, I spend a lot of time writing the report to be reviewed by other scientists. In addition to doing stock assessments, I serve on a number of scientific committees which provide other analyses and advice to fishery managers. I also work to build research collaborations with scientists from other institutions and countries to improve our understanding of these species.  When time permits, I conduct related research and publish this work in scientific journals.

Q:    What’s the best thing that you took away from MLML?  How did you time at MLML prepare you/influence you for what you do now?

A:  My graduate experience at MLML taught me two key elements to successfully completing the coursework and research: self discipline and perseverance.  Graduate school is the next step in learning to be your own manager, and that’s an important skill for any career choice.

Q:    What would you do if you could do anything differently?

A:  I would have studied harder during high school and the first two years of college, but was too busy having fun.  Also, I would have done more research to find out what types of jobs are available to marine scientists. I’m very happy with the path my career has taken, but the roadmap for that path would have been clearer if I had done more background research regarding career options.

Q:    What advice do you have for someone who wants to go into marine science and/or graduate school?

A:  Be certain that this is really what you want to do!  Most Marine Scientists pursue this line of work because they love what they are doing, and know that they won’t get rich doing it. You’re going to need an advanced degree (M.S. or Ph.D.) to get a half-way decent paying job.  Graduate school can be tough and frustrating at times, but my years at Moss Landing Marine Labs were some of the most memorable.

Q:    What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue a career like yours?

A:  Scientists in my field benefit from having graduate degrees or higher-level coursework from the following disciplines: biology, marine science, ecology, oceanography, population dynamics, mathematics, and statistics.  Strong math and statistical skills are essential tools, along with some experience in computer programming (for example C++ and FORTRAN). We need to communicate our work to the research community and public, so good writing and speaking skills and also very important.

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