Tuesday, July 5, 2022

A Message to Students: Is Your Future in Fish, Fisheries, or Conservation? by Don Orth

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” – Joseph Campbell

I have five simple messages for those still seeking a career path. First, start developing and nurturing your network of friends and associates and learn what you can from them. Second, everyone’s path in life is unique so seek your own way in college and beyond. Third, you belong and you can succeed. Fourth, diverse career opportunities exist in the fisheries profession. Finally, your future options may be informed by current trends in fish conservation. If you google future career opportunities you will get over 780,000 hits and none will mention fish or fisheries. One news story mentions the 10 best careers for the future: 10 Best Careers for the Future: Highest Paying & in Demand (College Foundation of North Carolina 2021)

1.     Registered Nurses and Medical Professionals. 

2.     Data Analysts. 

3.     Plumbers and Electricians.

4.     Dentists and Dental Hygienists.

5.     Software Developers.

6.     Cybersecurity Experts. 

7.     Alternative Energy Installers and Technicians. 

8.     Mental Health Professionals.

9.     Veterinarians

10.  Artificial Intelligence

However, these are not necessarily the best careers for you. If you are uncertain about your path, you are not alone. Use trusted sources and mentors to help guide your pathway. In the past weeks of the Hutton program you have met several fisheries and aquatic professionals. They are your mentors. Please, add me to your professional network of contacts. Learn from our past mistakes. You can learn more about me from a short article (Orth 2017) or two short videos. You may find the digital story of critical events in my early life that illuminated the values of an 18-year-old Don; see “Not Everyone Truly Lives." To learn more about my approach to science, see “Why My Science is Awesome.”

Fisheries management and fish conservation are difficult and complex arenas. Actions needed take persistence and patience and an open mind. Everyone’s path to a career that involves fish is unique, but all find that what they do makes a difference. A college degree is needed, so you must navigate your college choices wisely. That means use your network to discuss questions and how to overcome obstacles encountered. 

For example, are the following statements about college truth or fiction? • The best way to find out about a major is to take courses in it.
• I should get my Gen Eds out of the way first. Truth. Fiction. 
• College is unaffordable. Truth. Fiction. 
• Picking a major and a career are the same thing. Truth. Fiction. 
• Choosing one major means giving up all the others. Truth. Fiction. 
• My major will determine what I do for the rest of my life. Truth. Fiction. 
• You need a major. Truth. Fiction.
 • College is only for the smartest students. Truth. Fiction. 
• First generation college students have no disadvantages for college success. Truth. Fiction
These and many other common myths about college persist (Dehne ND). Guidance counselors will confirm that each statement is false. As you begin to discuss your pathway options with your growing network you will learn that everyone’s path is unique, but two pieces of advice will emerge: 1. Rely on a network of professional contacts whenever a question arises. They can inform you of new perspectives and influencers. 2. Seek opportunities outside your field to develop additional skills. Gerald Ford, our 38th President worked as a seasonal park ranger at Yellowstone National Park, which he maintained was “One of the greatest summers of my life.” Your major is just the starting point for designing a meaningful future. Consider the many possible wanderings as you explore the possibilities. Your life purpose is the point at which your skills, interests and the market intersect.

Venn diagram indicating that your life purpose is the point at which your 

skills, interests and the market intersect.

Answer these questions to help you decide “what should I do with my life?” (West 2020):

1. What, and who, is worth suffering for?

2. Close your eyes and imagine the best version of yourself. What is that person like?

3. If social media didn’t exist, what would you do with your life?

4. What comes most naturally to you?

5. What would your ideal daily routine look like?

6. What do you want your legacy to be?

Many uninformed observers believe that fisheries workers do the work of fishing and think we all work on a boat or in a hatchery. There are numerous types of fishing and even more human activities that may compromise the ability of ecosystems to support a diverse fish fauna.  Consequently, fish and fisheries experts are called upon to consult on the permitting, planning, and siting of many new mining, industrial, and manufacturing sites as well as long-term land and water use plans.  

Globally, fish are the primary protein source for ~ 40% of the world’s population. Overfishing is therefore common, which threatens the food security in countries dependent of fish for protein. Working on rebuilding on of the many overfished stocks can produce higher yields as well as substantial social, economic and ecological benefits. 

Artisanal and subsistence fisheries generate about one-third to one-half of the global catch that is used for direct human consumption and employ more than 99% of the worlds 60 million fishers. Scuba diving is a fast-growing form of special interest tourism that attracts individuals interested in underwater recreation and fish watching.  Scuba diving is now a multibillion-dollar industry and one of the world’s fastest growing recreational sports. Therefore, there is no single or one dominant type of fishing.


For many, the idea of managing for fishing seems silly or unnecessary. However, there are many obstacles to change to overcome in order to sustain good fishing.  In many cases, fishing requires basic access to fishing locations.  The goal of Fishing Has No Boundaries (FHNB) is to open up the great outdoors for people with disabilities through the world of fishing. FHNB, created in 1988, has grown into a National Organization with 27 chapters in 13 states, enabling thousands of individuals with disabilities to participate fully in this spirit-lifting, morale-boosting, trouble-free recreational activity. FHNB believes that through education, training, and the use of adaptive angling equipment, everyone is able to share in a dream come true.


What our graduates do is difficult to summarize because of the numerous pathways taken.  A four-year degree that includes aspects of fish conservation will be a strong foundation for many career pathways.  Although a MS degree is a pre-requisite for employment as a professional fisheries biologist in state and federal agencies, those who earn a BS find numerous opportunities working in environmental consulting, hatcheries, public aquariums, and related fishing and boating industries. 

In an impressive increase from years past, 38.3 percent of women in the United States had completed four years or more of college in 2020. This figure is up from 3.8 percent of women in 1940. A significant increase can also be seen in males, with 36.7 percent of the U.S. male population having completed four years or more of college in 2020, up from 5.5 percent in 1940. With this increase there is a saturation of certain majors, such as Criminal Justice, Psychology, Drama, English, and Computer Science. For example, a degree in business management and administration is pursued by 31.2% of all business majors, by far the most popular business-related concentration. Therefore, these majors expect steep competition in job searches. Recently, new college majors are emerging in fields as diverse as packaging, fermentation science, and cannabis cultivation to supply growing industries. According to Brewhound, the beer industry created more than 2 million new jobs (Kendall 2017).  The important take-home message is continuous changes in all fields.   

Percentage of the U.S. population who have completed four years of 

college or more from 1940 to 2020, by gender

Also, as the proportion of the US population in college increases, more of the students will be first-generation or historically underrepresented students.  Such students encounter additional challenges in navigating nuances of college choices.  That is why a network is so important. It is easier for people to take on the goals, motivations, emotions, and even physical reactions of people whom they feel even minimally connected to (Walton et al. 2012).  A sense of belonging does not depend on participation with, or proximity to, others or groups. Rather, belonging comes from a perception of quality, meaning and satisfaction with social connections. Belonging may also relate to a sense of belonging to a place or even an event. It is therefore a complex and dynamic process unique to each person. Thanks to the internet and smart phones, we are in many ways more connected than ever, and yet we are also reporting increased loneliness (Turkle 2017).


You can rely on your fellow students and seek out an on-campus group to facilitate dealing with changes during college. And change should be your expectation for education and career planning. The question “What do I do with this degree?” paralyzes most students who believe there in only one linear path. The linear progression of college internship  career job is unrealistic.  During your college years, be prepared for unplanned opportunities that arise and provide for possibilities for learning.  These may be undergraduate research, study abroad, or volunteer programs, such as Americorps (Americorps.com), Habitat for Humanity (habitat.org) or Peace Corps (peacecorps.gov).  

A rare linear path from college to a career. 

The future career opportunities for fish and fisheries professionals will increasingly address the top issues of our times. Some of these activities include:

·      Unprecedented Global Change 

·      Conservation aquaculture

·      Finfish aquaculture

·      Eco-labeling fishery products 

·      Reduce illegal fishing 

·      Certification of sustainable fisheries

·      Empowering women in fisheries

·      Climate change adaptations

·      Aquatic ecotourism

·      Drones and surveillance 

·      Small-scale fisheries governance

·      Marine sanctuaries

·      Biodiversity loss and discovery


As you continue your educational pursuits, never forget to thank those mentors who helped you along your educational pathways. Your success matters. Therefore, stay in contact and let your previous mentors know what and how you are doing. When you are struggling, reach out and ask for help. 

"One of the biggest defects in life is the inability to ask for help. " Robert Kiyosaki  

Humility is knowing what you don’t know. Often, the students I see who fail or will fail would rather argue against advice instead of taking advice. To succeed at anything, there’s a feedback loop that must be in place: try something --> get feedback and results --> learn from feedback and results --> try something new.


Good luck with your future educational choices.  Remember that “Chance Favors the Prepared Mind” (Louis Pasteur). 




Brooks, K. 2010. You Majored in What? Designing Your Path from College to Career. Plume Publishers. 352 pp. 

College Foundation of North Carolina. 2019.10 Best Careers for the Future: Highest Paying & In Demand. Accessed from https://www.cfnc.org/news/10-best-careers-for-the-future-highest-paying-in-demand/

Dehne, G. ND. 25 Common Myths about College Accessed from http://tb1cdn.schoolwebmasters.com/site_0054/yumakofa_25mythsaboutcollege_120814.pdf

Kendall, J. 2017. Study: U.S. Beer Industry Creates More than 2 million jobs. Brewbound website. May 24, 2017. Accessed at  https://www.brewbound.com/news/study-u-s-beer-industry-creates-2-million-jobs

Orth, D. 2017. How I Got Where I Am. American Currents 42(4):21-24.  http://nanfa.org/ac/don-orth.pdf

Turkle, S. 2017. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Basic Books. 400 pp. 

Walton, G. M., G. Cohen, D. Cwir, and S. Spencer. 2012. Mere belonging: The power of social connections. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 102 (3): 513-532.

West, B. 2020. What should I do with my life? This is exactly how to know what you’re meant to do. Thought Catalog January 21, 2020. Accessed at https://thoughtcatalog.com/brianna-wiest/2018/05/what-should-i-do-with-my-life-this-is-how-to-find-your-purpose/