Next Generation: Fisheries research with Ben Frey

January 18, 2022

Advisor: Dr. David Secor

Next Generation: Ben Frey on using lasers to age fish
UMCES Graduate student Ben Frey has been developing a new way to determine the age of fish to aid fishery managers who use this information to ensure and monitor the effectiveness of sustainable fishing practices. He is now looking forward to the next stage of his career as a John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow during which he will work within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

What is the focus of your research?
I am developing a novel way to accurately age fish by quantifying concentrations of trace elements in bones and other hard structures. Fish are often aged by counting growth rings in their bones and other hard parts, somewhat like tree rings. My research will help confirm the ages. Basically, I am shooting lasers at fish bones to see how old the fish is.

How will your research make a difference?
My work helps fisheries managers understand the status of their fish stocks to ensure the effectiveness of sustainable fishing practices.

What influenced your career path in science?
In my first year of undergrad, a professor of mine brought me into his ichthyology (fish zoology) lab and mentored me for the next four years. He helped me expand my scientific horizons. I eventually landed on fisheries science as an interest and as a career, and I have never looked back.

Why did you choose to study with your mentor at UMCES?
Dr. Secor gave a talk during an undergraduate internship to tell us about all the great work he does with UMCES. He mentioned an opening in his lab, and the opportunity to work with someone with his breadth of experience and teaching ability was too good to pass up.

What is an experience that stands out most to you about your time at UMCES?
My first time doing fieldwork at sea on a NOAA cruise probably stands out the most. Being able to get my hands on fish and see them fresh out of the water made all my graduate work feel real and more than just data on a page.

What is the most important thing people can do to help the environment?
You always want to mind your carbon footprint, conserve energy, and try to get others to do the same. Every little bit helps.

Dave Secor and Ben Frey

Do you have advice for kids in the next generation who are interested in STEM fields?
Visit your local science center. That is where I first fell in love with science, and it helps you understand just how huge an impact STEM has on our daily lives.

Did you receive a scholarship, grant, travel award, or gift from a donor? 
I absolutely did. I am currently funded by a NOAA award that supports the Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center (LMRCSC), that seeks to broaden diversity in the NOAA workforce now and in the future. The LMRCSC is based at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, but includes UMCES as a partner. Without this support, I would not have been able to have access to the equipment necessary to complete my work, present my work at national meetings, or get the field experiences that inspired me and make it all worthwhile.

You’ve been awarded a 2022 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, in which graduate students work on coastal and marine science policy with federal agencies for one year. Where is your placement?
I know there have been many UMCES students before me who have been Knauss Fellows and used the opportunity to build successful STEM careers at NOAA and beyond. During my fellowship, I will be in NOAA’s National Ocean Services’ Marine Debris Program working on projects relating to the prevention, mitigation, and removal of derelict fishing gear and other debris from the marine environment.

How has your time at UMCES prepared you for your Knauss Fellowship?
My time at UMCES helped create the foundation for any future careers I may have, and I would not stand a chance at competing for the Knauss Fellowship without it. It is another great opportunity to expand my horizons, network with the greater scientific community, and it opens career paths I may have not considered prior.

What sort of career or additional studies do you hope to pursue?
I chose to apply to the Knauss Fellowship because it provides a great pivot point for my scientific career. By the end, I will choose to either use my master’s degree training to continue working with NOAA or pivot toward pursuing a Ph.D. in fisheries. I’m excited to find out which paths open for me.