Aubrey Ellertson

Turks and Caicos Islands Spring '10

While on South Caicos, my research was on establishing a baseline information guide for fisheries management on the finfish dock landings, and if Nassau Grouper in particular were being speared below the age of sexual maturity. After having an incredible experience down on South, I decided my senior independent research would be a meta-analysis of Epinephelus striatus looking at the ecological and evolutionary consequences of size-selection on Nassau grouper, and the affect spear fishing had on species composition and size.

Being a woman on South Caicos, was not always easy. I had to gain the respect of the men and the fishermen quite early on.  However, I enjoyed these interactions. I can confidently say I met and knew very well about 100 people on South Caicos. In fact, I still get telephone calls from them, and we constantly chat on Facebook weekly. My interactions with these amazing people have completely reshaped my life and world view.  I learned the health of an ecosystem is measured by the health of the community. These two are interchangeable. I also realized that a thriving subsistence culture does not have to be odds with sustainable development, but it requires effective local engagement. So as a result, federal and state governments should more actively use traditional ecological knowledge to honor traditional views and effectively manage natural resources.

What I loved about being with SFS was that it combined research and monitoring with outreach, and education. I learned it is just as much about the people and place, as it is the fish. Again, just as much about the people as it is the fish. I have always had a candid desire, and ability to work with people, and being on South Caicos allowed me to do just that.

After SFS, I finished my biology degree at Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster Pennsylvania, and applied to work for the Northeast Fisheries Branch as an At-Sea monitor for the U.S. Department of Commerce/NOAA and National Marine Fisheries Service.  I was accepted into the program and just finished training a few weeks ago.  I have been out to sea a few times already, collecting biological data on commercial fishing trips, for scientific and fisheries management purposes. The main objectives of the Fisheries Sampling Branch are to collect fishing, biological and economic data as well as document interactions with protected and endangered species.  Data I collect is important in identifying the species and size selectivity of several marine fisheries in the Northeast, as well as quantify discard rates and annual catch entitlements per sector.

Without a doubt, my SFS experience contributed to where I am today. If I had never been on South Caicos, my views on fisheries management may never have been as clear to me as they are now. I am making a difference today. And while it may be only 1 commercial fishing trip at a time, it’s something, and for now, that’s enough.