Thursday, December 17, 2020

Fluvial Fishes Lab Year in Review, by Don Orth

Being alive in 2020 meant so many new experiences. The year 2020 was very likely the only year you will live through wherein the first two digits will match the second two digits.   But that is NOT what we will remember about 2020.  In my 2019 year in review I wrote about the nearly completed renovations of the lab.  See video and photo. That did not go as planned. By the time the lab was certified ready to occupy, I was sent home for teleworking as a nonessential employee.  I did manage to raffle off the Mexican Cowboy painting from the lab. But all supplies and equipment have been in storage since 2019. Authors of  the Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Virginia were presented with Distinguished Service Awards from the Virginia Chapter of the American Fisheries Society.  I received my first royalty check from sales of the Field Guide - and donated this to the Virginia Chapter which supported the work. Order yours now and it may be delivered in time for Christmas. Many planned events to promote the Field Guide were cancelled when COVID-19 began to spike. 

I will have many new memories of 2020.  

2020 was a year when “wear a mask” was a politically charged statement. 
Pandemic online teaching dominated.
How many times was I told "You are still muted." while in a zoom meeting?
Internet speed tests showed I’m not getting what I paid for 
"I can’t breathe.” — George Floyd, a plea to police officer, Minneapolis, May 25.
Watching recorded videos at 2X speed.  
Things I never thought I needed:
Subscription toilet paper
Liquor and wine delivery 
Noise-reducing microphone 
Teleworking as a nonessential worker
Unstable internet warnings
Zoom office hours
Virtual Happy Hours 
Netflix bingeing 
Mail-in ballots 
Amazon Prime becomes a good deal
Dog food deliveries 

After spring break, Ichthyology class was entirely online, so we invented virtual specimens, virtual labs, virtual field trips, and virtual lab practical exams. As I was rushed to master online teaching pedagogy, I reminded myself to stick with simple and reliable approaches rather than innovating without preparation. The Lab Notebook is one learning method that is well accepted, long standing, and low tech. Sketching what you observe and writing your observations in your own handwriting in your own words, is how we have always made sense of the world. It is an essential skill of all scientists. High tech tools, photography, CT scans, 3d models, and other visualization tools provide more information, but the Lab Notebook is what may be mastered in person and online. Each day’s observations were recorded, reviewed, corrected, and built upon. And when the education goes fully online, the student has the one constant, the Lab Notebook, to work with and share with others. When this pandemic is over and we return to field work, skills will transfer to the scientist's Field Notebook with observations, sketches, and data. We know that transcribing information has little benefit for learning. However, drawing has a strong influence on memory – even if the student has little artistic ability.  

Recalling his experience with Ichthyology, Sam Scudder was provided a wet, smelly fish in a tin pan by famous naturalist Louis Agassiz (1807-1873).  Take this fish," said Agassiz, "and look at it; we call it a haemulon; by and by I will ask what you have seen." Agassiz would then leave and return hours later. But Agassiz would say very little except “look at your fish!” Agassiz told Scudder “a pencil is one of the best of eyes. I am glad to notice, too, that you keep your specimen wet, and your bottle corked."   Rather than quit, Scudder would really concentrate and take his time in observing the fish. Because each stage of the process of looking at the fish forced him to concentrate and focus more. What Agassiz was seeking was creation of some orderly arrangement of many drawings and facts via observing the fish.  Just look at the fish! Or transfer these skills to other endeavors. Samuel Scudder went on to become a leader in the field of entomology and pioneered studies in insect paleontology. 

No field trip photo of Ichthyology students was possible in 2020. 

As all work became virtual, I reflected more on how we connect in meaningful ways in a virtual world? and How do we build trust in virtual worlds? As Yoda advises, “Do or do not. There is not try.”   Some thoughts were hastily summarized last summer, but my daily struggles continue to put these into practice.  I simplified my hasty thoughts into three essentials for successful conservation and successful online learning. These are (1) communications; (2) trust; and (3) shared understanding.  Each is more challenging to accomplish when students and others see me only as a talking head adjacent to the shared screen (below). 

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, 
and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” ~ Anais Nin

The message of The Lorax, Dr. Seuss (1971) is relevant today. 

In Fall semester, I taught the pilot version of Fish, Fishing, and Conservation, which is the only course about fish offered for non-majors. This course explores "Sensory perception, behavior, and consciousness in fish. Principles, as related to fish and why they matter, fish conservation ethics, food security, recreational fishing, and responsible fishing practices. Ethical reasoning applied to the contemporary issues of conservation and use of fish, such as subsistence fishing, fish farming, marine protected areas, highly migratory fishes, shark tourism, and ornamental fishes."  A syllabus may be reviewed by clicking here.  The course was taught online with synchronous class sessions. All the issues can be understood through a lens of ethical reasoning and planning via public trust principles (Hare and Bossey 2014). My attempt at organizing many seemingly disparate topics focused on encouraging deliberative dialogue. Deliberative dialogues build on the theory that democracy requires citizens to engage in ongoing deliberation on public matters.  Fish conservation and fishing conflicts provide many examples of wicked problems in which participants must learn how to reduce inherent tensions while engaged in problem solving.  Everyday people are part of the dialogues about fishing policy, so we all must be competent in developing and critiquing arguments and detecting logical fallacies and myths (Guişu and  Tindale 2018; Shiffman et al. 2020). We must be the ones who speak for the fishes.  No doubt, my biggest challenge in this first-time offering was my inability to read the faces of students. I could not longer stop and say "Archie [not his real name], you look confused. What questions do you have?" Instead, students were surprised and rattled when I said "Jenny [not her real name], unmute and tell us your thoughts on the chapter." It did not go as hoped, but that is okay. 

A 41-kg Blue Catfish captured from the Rappahannock River is among the trophy-sized catfish that make this and other rivers destination fisheries. Photo credit: Jason Emmel. This photo was published in the Orth et al. 2020 essay.

Fish and fishing have been represented in art for at least 14,000 years in cave paintings by Cro-Magnon people. The Greek God, Poseidon, was often depicted riding a creature that was half horse and half fish.  Ancient art may even serve fish conservation; see this unique article. One assignment in Fish, Fishing, and Conservation engaged students in understanding fish and fishing through existing works of art. At least six functions for art in society (Jackson 2012) have been proposed: 

Art for Delight 
Art as Commentary 
Art in Worship and Ritual
Art for Commemoration 
Art for Persuasion 
Art as Self-Expression

Students explored these functions via artistic depictions of fish near or in the water, at the market, or on the kitchen table, in addition to fishing from many areas (see Bluefin tuna fishing below). 

Bluefin tuna fishing in the Roman city of Baelo Claudia, 2nd century B.C., 
Artist Lineke Zubieta (Santander, Spain) 

New Publications  

Bourquin, R.M., D. J. Orth, E. M. Hallerman, and D. F. Stauffer. 2020. Are road crossing fragmenting populations of Clinch DaceNortheastern Naturalist 27(4):709-722.

Bourquin, R.M., E.M. Hallerman, M.J. Moore, and D.J. Orth. 2020. Conservation genetics of Clinch Dace Chrosomus sp. cf. saylori. Ichthyology and Herpetology (formerly Copeia) Accepted pending revision

Hilling, C.D., Y. Jiao, A.J. Bunch, R.S. Greenlee, J.D. Schmitt, and D.J. Orth. 2020. Long-term Declining growth trajectories of invasive Blue Catfish in four tidal tributaries of Chesapeake Bay. North American Journal of Fisheries Management  

Martin, Z.P., P.L. Angermeier, S. Ciparis, and D.J. Orth. 2020. Coal-mining intensity influences species and trait distributions of stream fishes in two Central Appalachian watershedsEcology of Freshwater Fish Early View

Orth, D.J., J.D. Schmidt, and C.D. Hilling. 2020. Hyperbole, simile, metaphor, invasivore: Messaging about the non-native Blue Catfish expansionFisheries 45(12): DOI:10.1002/fsh.10502

Schmitt, J.D., and D.J. Orth. 2020. Estimates of food consumption rates for invasive Blue Catfish Ictalurus furcatus. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society Accepted pending revision

New Grant Awards

Castello, Leandro, et al. National Science Foundation, Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems.  Understanding cross-scale institutional and ecological feedbacks on the sustainability of freshwater fisheries.  (2020-2025) 

The broader impacts portion of this grant will develop education modules to teach the multifaceted nature of fisheries as an integrated set of fish-environment-people-society interactions that can only be understood or managed through consideration of all their components.   Connections between students, academics, policy makers, and fisher communities will be facilitated through social media. 

Orth, D.J., and A.R. Walz.  Creation of Open Textbook: Fish, Fishing, and Conservation (2020-2022)

New Popular Articles

Orth, D.J. 2020. BOOK REVIEW: Grab Your Mask and Snorkel and Get Ready for a Wet and Wild Adventure. American Currents 45(3):4-5.

Orth, D.J. 2020. A fishy enigma named Pirate Perch. American Currents 45(2):8-10.

Orth, D.J. 2020. Who you callin’ “Chubby?” Chubsuckers are too cool to care. American Currents 45(1):28-31

The all-time most accessed blog post was once again "Mythology of the baby doll head," which you can read by clicking here

Motivated by the George Floyd murder and subsequent black lives matter protests, a coalition of alumni, current students, faculty, and related individuals developed a petition for changes desired in our college. This helped to showed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality protests happening across the country.  This has been a long running issue that will not be solved anytime soon. In my day-one introduction to students, I shared my first experiences with riots -- the Chicago Freedom Movement march, August 5, 1966.  The movement inspired the Fair Housing Act of 1968. During this time of riots, Martin Luther King, Jr., said that "a riot is the language of the unheard." I think of that often when people ask "why are people rioting?" The petition started by our students, alumni, staff, and faculty did raise the level of dialogue in our College. That is a good thing.  We all have a need to feel heard.
Steve Gough, river  scientist, environmentalist, inventor and designer (1958-2020) R.I.P.

I was saddened by the death of Steve Gough, friend and fellow river scientist. Steve died on November 2nd, 2020.  Steve was a talented river scientist who did significant stream restoration work and invented the Emriver dynamic stream model and founded Little River Research and Design.  Steve recognized that static design drawings for stream restoration projects were entirely inadequate for planning and education.  Consequently, he invented much-needed dynamic stream models and educational videos. The Emriver model is used by students, scientists, and practitioners around the world for geomorphic simulation, research, and education. His legacy lives on in so many miles of stream values restored through reasonable cost designs and untold numbers of persons enlightened and empowered through his inventions and workshops.  Obituary link

"No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away." -- Terry Pratchett 

from Berkeley Breathed

In September 2020, I completed my 40th year at Virginia Tech. Over this time, the average age of faculty increased, and numbers of post-doctoral associates have skyrocketed the last 10 years (Damman et al. 2013; Ghaffarzadegan and Xu 2019; Larson et al. 2014). In 2021,  I will begin my retirement transition and work 50% time. Disengagement from work in academia is difficult (or so I've been warned) and the transition from work to retirement will likely be stranger than I anticipate.  I plan to begin with a few simple rules: no working on nights and weekends, no new grant writing binges, no new graduate students, and no "more study is needed" follow ups.  I will focus on writing and evaluating Fish, Fishing, and Conservation, an open education textbook, and I hope that my plans open a new fish faculty position soon.   

Rocking Chair on my front porch awaiting my transition.


Damman, M., K. Henkens, M. Kalmijn. 2013. Late-career work disengagement: The role of proximity to retirement and career experiences. Journal of Gerontology 68(3):455-463.

Ghaffarzadegan, N., and R. Xu. 2019. Late retirement, early careers, and the aging of U.S. science and engineering professors. PLoS ONE 13(12): e0208411.

Guişu, R.C., and C.W. Tindale. 2018. Logical fallacies and invasion biology. Biology & Philosophy 33: 34 

Hare, D., and B. Bossey. 2014. Principles of public trust thinking. Human Dimensions of Wildlife 19:397-406.

Jackson, C. E. 2012. Fish in Art. Reaction Books Ltd, London. 248 pp. 

Larson, R.C., N. Ghaffarzadegan, and Y. Xue. 2014. Too many PhD graduates or too few academic job openings: The basic reproductive number R0 in academia.  Systems Research and Behavioral Science 31(6):745-750.

Shiffman, D.S., S.J. Bittick, M.S. Cashion, S.R. Colla, L.E. Coristine, D.H. Derrick, E.A. Gow, C.C. Macdonald, M.M. O’Ferrall, M. Orobko, R.A. Pollom, J. Provencher, and N.K. Dulvy. 2020. Inaccurate and biased global media coverage underlies public misunderstanding of shark conservation threats and solutions. iScience 23: 101205 2020.101205