Janne and TFUI Founder Melissa go way back -- like, 2013 back. Both met in Prescott, Arizona during a semester abroad where they traveled to Kino Bay, Mexico. During that semester, they mused about their mutual love for sharks.
Who would have known years later both would be scientists studying these animals? Well... these ladies sure did!
We're excited for this Behind the Fins interview because it's not only a friend, but because of the interesting work she does! In the middle of her PhD, Janne has been able to be a part of some pretty neat trips!
So why not dive into this special interview with us? Come on!
The Fins United Initiative: Thank you for your time! First, can you tell us what interested you in marine biology in the first place?
Janne Haugen: My childhood was influenced by growing up next to a fjord and a short drive to the ocean. I spent a lot of time by the coast during the weekends and summers. I’ve always loved being outside exploring and liked that the fjords and ocean looked so calm at the surface while I had no idea about the richness of life that was happening in a whole other world under the surface. I just thought it was really cool that there were animals that could breathe under water and would never have to come up for air. That’s probably why I’m more interested in fish rather than marine mammals.
TFUI: That makes sense. So where did your interest in sharks come from? I remember us chatting about wanting to both study sharks during our shared study abroad experience in Prescott, so you must've loved them before then!
JH: I was fascinated by sharks from a young age, but didn’t always know that I wanted to (or could) study them for a living. I remember writing in my childhood diaries that I wanted to be a veterinarian or shark expert when I grew up. As soon as I found out veterinarians had to euthanize animals, becoming a veterinarian was pretty much out of the question for me. Still not an expert in all things shark, but I get paid to study them, so I’m pretty happy with how it all turned out!
TFUI: Can you tell TFUI a little bit about the work you are currently doing?
JH: I’m currently working on bycatch, management, and assessment of North Atlantic porbeagle sharks. Stock assessments for highly migratory sharks tend to be data limited, due to lack of fishery independent data and scarce fishery dependent data (a lot of times historic landings are not species specific). My dissertation focuses on providing information regarding the eastern and western porbeagle stocks to improve the stock assessments that management rely on. Porbeagles are caught as bycatch in U.S. trawl and gillnet fisheries, but this data has not been included in previous stock assessments. I’m using observer data to calculate the at-vessel mortality and discard ratios for porbeagle in the different fleets to get better estimates of total fishing mortality for the Northwest Atlantic porbeagle stock. Furthermore, we can also use this data to identify bycatch hotspots which can help reduce the total bycatch of porbeagle, and therefore help the population recover quicker.
TFUI: Why porbeagle sharks?
JH: Porbeagles in the North Atlantic have a long history of exploitation (almost 100 years in some areas!), but didn’t receive management attention until 10-15 years ago. By that time the North Atlantic stocks had reached historic low levels. I chose to focus my research on porbeagle since it combines my interest for sharks and fisheries, and I think my research can be used directly in management of the species to ensure sustainability.
TFUI: Why is your research important?
JH: Stock assessments rely on several assumptions about the fishery and biology of the porbeagle (fishing mortality, growth rate, reproduction capacity etc.), which may cause uncertainties in the model outcome. By quantifying at-vessel mortality and dead discards in commercial fisheries, we can reduce some of the uncertainty about total fishing mortality used in the stock assessment models, which can lead to more informed management decisions.
TFUI: Can you tell TFUI readers a little bit about your role as a member of ICES WGEF?
JH: I was appointed as a U.S. delegate to be a member of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) Working Group for Elasmobranch Fishes (WGEF) and the Workshop Group to compile and refine catch and landings of elasmobranchs (WKSHARK) a few months into my PhD.
TFUI: That is so exciting! Congratulations!
JH: Both groups meet annually, and the last few years WGEF has been meeting in beautiful Lisbon, Portugal. The groups consist of scientists and fishery managers working for NGO’s or governments from various countries in Europe and North America. We check national landings and discards data for errors, update information on each stock and, update assessments and advice on altering stocks. The WGEF is responsible for providing advice on shared elasmobranch stocks in European waters based on the best available science. I’ve been mostly contributing to the porbeagle chapter, and preparations for the next stock assessment as my research focuses on porbeagles in the entire North Atlantic. There are only a few students that are members, so I feel very fortunate to have gotten this opportunity to contribute to the group this early in my career.
TFUI: As a fisheries ecologist and in your opinion, do you think the fisheries in your area are sustainable and allowing for sharks to maintain healthy populations?
JH: Generally yes. Fisheries management is a high priority here, and although, some stocks have previously been overfished, few stocks are currently being overfished due to strict management. The majority of elasmobranchs here are not targeted by the commercial fisheries, but some are incidentally caught as bycatch in other fisheries. How detrimental those incidental catches are on the different shark populations, varies by species. That’s one of the questions I’m hoping to answer with my porbeagle bycatch research.
We do have a few examples of commercial elasmobranch fisheries that are currently well managed; winter skate in the Northeast skate complex fishery, and the Northeast spiny dogfish fishery. I recently published a study on spiny dogfish where we examined the potential for targeting male spiny dogfish as the current fishery mostly catches females. Sex ratios in the population are skewed with 3-4 males per female, leaving male spiny dogfish underutilized. We found that spiny dogfish have a clear spatial and temporal sexual segregation in the population and our analysis showed that you can target male spiny dogfish with little female bycatch. This can help reduce the fishing pressure on the females in the population, restore the sex ratios to natural levels, and provide a sustainable harvesting alternative to fishermen.
TFUI: What sort of relationship do fisheries have with elasmobranchs that most people are not aware of?
JH: I think the biggest misconception about fisheries and elasmobranchs is that the majority of people are not aware that shark fisheries can be sustainable. Sharks are fish and with careful management based on the best science available, harvesting certain shark populations can be sustainable. Also, I feel like commercial fishermen sometimes get a bad reputation for harvesting sharks within current regulations. The public must remember that the majority of fishermen want and seek sustainable harvest, because their future livelihood depends on it.
TFUI: You were on an OCEARCH boat not too long ago! How was that experience?
JH: That was so much fun and just by chance. One of my committee members, Tobey Curtis collaborates with OCEARCH on a white shark juvenile study in Long Island. Since my research has been desk based, Tobey has always been great at trying to get me on the water. Although, I didn’t see a white shark, we caught a juvenile mako, saw a humpback whale, and I got to connect with a few other scientists. Definitely something I would do again!
TFUI: Eek, so cool! Do you think people in your current state have a good relationship with the ocean environment?
JH: I live in the Ocean State (Rhode Island), so yes! Rhode Island is doing really well organizing beach cleanups and outreach about marine debris and the damages it causes wildlife, and our food sources. There are plenty of organized beach cleanups on beaches all over RI in the spring and fall, and they usually have great turnout. There are also several local restaurants, cafes, and breweries that specialize in local sustainable produce and reducing single-use plastics.
TFUI: How is it different from the relationship you see between people of Norway and the ocean? What do you think has caused this difference, if there is one?
JH: I’d say the biggest difference between Rhode Island/New England area and Norway is that Norwegians generally know what local/national species we fish for and can find in the supermarket in Norway. My experience in Rhode Island/New England is that the average non-fisheries person is not always aware of all the amazing local species caught in the area, and which species you can eat. I’ve heard people thinking Monkfish is a tropical and exotic fish species, but they are locally caught here in New England. Other species such as Spiny Dogfish, Scup, and Sea Robins, people don’t even know are edible and quite good! Luckily, there are multiple organizations currently working towards education the public about all the awesome seafood that is locally produced in New England.
TFUI: Have you found speaking multiple languages helps you when discussing science (i.e. do you find you have a larger network because you speak multiple languages)? Do you think speaking multiple languages helps with your science outreach efforts at all?
JH: Yes, being able to understand and communicate in multiple languages has always been a big asset to me. For my research I’m able to find and comprehend published reports in Swedish, Danish, German, and of course English and Norwegian. This is very useful as there is a lot of good information in national reports that never make it into a peer reviewed journal in English. I mostly do my outreach in English at local events here in Rhode Island and on Twitter (https://twitter.com/JanneHaugen) where I talk about porbeagles, sharks, graduate school, fisheries, and spearfishing. I also like translating and showing videos and pictures from Norwegian news to show the Twitter world some of the cool aspects of Norwegian wildlife.
In addition, speaking Norwegian has been very beneficial for me at working group meetings to connect with other fisheries scientists working on elasmobranchs in the Nordic countries. New England and Norway has strong ties in the world of fisheries, and I’ve loved meeting the Norwegian scientists that have visited here and take them out for lunch and talk about fish.
TFUI: What has been your whackiest field/lab experience?
JH: First, I must say that the majority of science for a lot of people isn’t spent in the field, but behind a computer. Unfortunately that’s not highlighted as much as it should be.
TFUI: Very true.
JH: With that said, I’ve had some fun field experiences, but also a few scary ones. This last winter I was out longlining for halibut to tag for another students project. This was in the middle of winter with a full snowstorm coming in, but we needed to deploy the tags so the boat captain brought us out. Interestingly, we only caught one halibut, but two porbeagles came up dead as bycatch. After we tagged the halibut, I opted to sample and dissect the porbeagles on the vessel for my own research. I’ve never worked in a swell that big before, and with snow/rain, and cold hands on top of that, getting the samples took way longer than anticipated. As I finished, the weather had gotten substantially worse as we were heading in and I seriously though we would capsize going over the bar into Chatham, MA!
TFUI: Dang, that sounds scary!
JH: Obviously it wasn’t that bad, but the movie “The Finest Hours” gives you an idea of how challenging it can be getting back into Chatham. P.S.: Accidents at sea happens so quickly and being a commercial fisherman New England is one of the deadliest jobs you can have. If you’re going out sampling on a commercial boat anywhere, take a safety at sea course and always wear a personal floating device when on deck.
TFUI: Very good piece of advice. Any more advice you have for our readers?
JH: I’ll add on a few tips for students interested in graduate school:
Choosing the right advisor for you is the most important thing, and should be your number one priority. Some advisors are pretty hands-off while others have weekly assignments and deadlines for you. The program, school, and project you’ll work is not worth it if you don’t have a good connection with your advisor. I’m lucky to have a pretty great advisor, and I don’t think I would be in the third year of my PhD without him and my supportive committee. If you find an advisor you think you like, ask him/her if you could speak to their current students before accepting a position. That will give you a good impression of what it will be like to work in that lab. Lastly, if you can get field work experience that’s great, but it’s certainly not the most valuable skills for graduate school. Learning statistics and coding in R for fisheries have become a big part of scientific studies today, and you will likely need to use statistics at some point. If fieldwork is needed, that’s usually a lot easier to teach someone, than starting from scratch with statistics and R.
TFUI: What does the rest of 2018 have in store for you?
JH: The rest of 2018 will be spent finishing up a couple of projects as well as starting a new project where I will be investigating habitat suitability for porbeagle. I also have a few conferences coming up, and I can’t wait to get some feedback on my research. I recently took over the responsibility of managing my lab’s Cod and Monkfish tagging database, so I’m looking forward to spend some more time with fishermen collecting incoming tags and fish.
TFUI: Good luck with everything, Janne! Sounds like an exciting future!
TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
SEE MELISSA'S TEDx TALK HERE:
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