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With fishing in his blood, URI senior
aims to use science to help fishing industry
KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 25, 2003 -- Hope Valley resident Steve Wilcox knows that commercial fishermen are skeptical of scientists and their claims that many fish stocks have been depleted. But he figured that the only way he could have a positive impact on the local fishing industry was to become a fisheries scientist himself.
When he graduates from the University of Rhode Island in May, he will be on his way toward achieving his goal.
"The fishing life is never the same," Wilcox said. "You want to get out of bed each morning to see what the day will bring you. It lacks the monotony that many other jobs have."
He should know. His father is a commercial lobsterman, and Wilcox worked with him for several years. He also dug quahogs during summer vacations and used that income to finance his college education.
Since last fall, Wilcox has worked as a research assistant with URI research associate Kathy Castro and others conducting tagging and recapture studies of lobsters and black sea bass. He has also studied shell disease in captive lobsters and lobster molting as part of a lobster restoration project in Narragansett Bay and surrounding waters.
In the latter study, Wilcox evaluated the shells of lobsters that were restocked following the North Cape oil spill in 1996. These restocked lobsters were not supposed to be captured and sold for at least a year, so a small v-notch was made in their tails so fishermen could identify them as such. But when the lobsters molt, they can partially heel wounds, including the v-notch.
"The question is whether the lobster gets a chance to reproduce prior to being susceptible to harvest again," Wilcox explained. "If the lobster molts, I want to know if the new, partially regenerated notch still protects it from harvest. If it doesnt, then the lobster is legal to take without serving its restocking purpose, meaning it molts and is captured before it has had the opportunity to reproduce.
"This research is especially meaningful to me," added the URI senior, "because it really affects me and my family. With my education, I hope to give back to the industry that has given me such a great opportunity."
Following graduation, Wilcox hopes to work as a fisheries scientist and "make a difference in the long run. I want to get a job where I can be involved in the entire scientific process. Too often, one person researches what gear is needed, a different person then builds the gear, a different group does the research, another then collects the data, and someone else analyzes the data. This seems to be where most of the scientific data has its validity questioned."
Wilcox also intends to continue fishing in his spare time. "Most people go to Florida or somewhere warm for spring break, and instead I was out there lobstering in 10 degree weather with ice forming on the boat as we hauled. But thats what I want to be doing. Thats vacation to me."