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What Is Fisheries Biology?

A fisheries biologist studies fish, such as salmon, in their habitat.
Someone who studied fisheries biology might inspect the catch brough in on fishing boats.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2014
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Fisheries biology is a scientific discipline which is focused on the study of fisheries. Fisheries are fish populations which are used for commercial value, and they include saltwater fisheries, freshwater fisheries, and fish farms in both salt and freshwater. Degrees in fisheries biology are offered at fairly few colleges and universities around the world, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees available. Many degree-granting institutions are located relatively close to the ocean for the purpose of fieldwork.

A fishery is a delicate system. Fisheries biologists study fish habitats and fish populations, learning about the natural conditions which fish live in and then extending their knowledge to determine how a fishery can be used sustainably. In many fisheries, it is not uncommon to have multiple species of commercial value, all of which must be treated very differently. Fisheries are also interconnected, with things like agriculture and other practices on land having a direct impact on fishery health.

One common employer of specialists in fisheries biology is fish and game agencies. These government agencies have a dual goal of protecting natural resources and making natural resources available to people and companies which wish to use them. Fish and game representatives do things like issuing fishing licenses, inspecting the catch on fishing boats to confirm that all of the species are legal, conducting long term studies about wild animal populations, and inspecting fish farms to confirm that they are being operated in a responsible manner.

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Conservation organizations also use experts in fisheries biology to study fish populations and make policy recommendations. Many fisheries around the world are critically overfished, making the development of new policy very important. Fisheries biologists may engage in fieldwork for months and years while they study fish populations and develop a plan to help a population revive without excessively limiting the fishing industry. Fisheries biologists are very concerned about protecting productive and delicate ecosystems, and may engage in a variety of techniques from promoting the cause of endangered fish to studying fish in the lab to protect the natural environment.

Fish farms also use fisheries biologists to manage their populations. The biologist makes sure that the habitat is suitable, monitors population numbers, looks out for signs of diseases, and manages the program as a whole to keep the fish farm safe, productive, and as environmentally friendly as possible. Some concerns related to fisheries biology which can arise with fish farming include the accidental release of farmed non-native fish into native populations, the spread of disease from fish farms to native fish species, and habitat destruction which can occur when fish farming is too intensive.

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