It’s time for another interview. Dr Clive Fox is a senior lecturer at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), where he has worked since 2007. His research focuses on the major issues facing fisheries including climate change, by-catch, and discards. Clive attained his PhD at Stirling University studying lipid biochemistry and has previously worked at CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science) in Lowestoft. Clive is becoming increasingly involved with marine policy.
How would you describe your work to a 10yr old?
I work mainly with species of fish and shellfish which are caught by commercial fishers. I work on the biology of the fish and shellfish, on the impacts fishing itself has on the marine environment but also trying to help the industry overcome problems it has. Overall my aim is to try and make the fishing industry more sustainable in the long-term by helping manage and reduce these impacts.
Why did you choose this as a profession?
Like a lot of people my age I guess I can sum this up in two words – Jacques Cousteau. When I was in my early teens I got one of his books on diving and marine life and became somewhat obsessed. I also grew up in Southend-on-Sea and spent large amounts of my summer holidays on Southend’s beaches paddling about in the inshore areas trying to catch fish or digging holes in the sand – I guess this must have had an impact as well. I cannot really imagine living anywhere too far from the sea.
Scientific research is full of challenges; can you share some of your biggest challenges, and how you overcame them?
I think funding is the main frustration. Of course everyone says that, but I think increasingly funding seems to be for short-term projects so it is really difficult to collect longer-term data. Overall I think this is a major mistake because we need long-term, consistently collected timeseries of observations for investigating issues such as environmental changes. To be honest I have not yet found a way around that particular hurdle other than thinking I might analyse all my stored samples once I retire.
How would you define success as a scientific researcher for you personally?
I still get enormous pleasure from learning something I did not know before – note I am not necessarily talking about something no-one knew before, but from the personal perspective of my own knowledge. This can occur through a whole variety of routes such as reading the literature, speaking to people at conferences or starting work on a new topic.
Because I work a lot on applied issues I’d also define success as when something I have worked on actually gets implemented, or makes a difference in marine policy or management. That is also very satisfying, although it can take a long time for research to feed-through to implementation.
At a higher level I am actually quite optimistic having seen signs that the North Sea cod stock is finally rebuilding. When I was working at the fisheries laboratory Lowestoft several important stocks were at very low levels and things looked quite pessimistic – science and the fishing industry were often at loggerheads but co-operation has definitely improved. I do remember thinking that I could retire happily if the North Sea cod had recovered, even though my personal contribution to that recovery will have been relatively minor.
The increasing spread of sustainability certification of fisheries, which I have also been involved with for some fisheries, has also been largely positive in my opinion. At a global level things are probably not quite so optimistic due to widespread illegal fishing, disputes over shared stocks and so on, but we can at least point to some examples which have showed positive responses in the stocks as inspiration of what needs to be done.
What excites you about your current projects?
I am currently working on two projects with the local fishing industry. I am very hopeful that this work will help the industry and thus protect jobs in the Scottish coastal areas. The chance to have a positive impact on people’s lives, as well as the marine environment, is very important to me.
What advice, that has impacted your career, would you like to share with any scientists reading this?
“Science is 99% perspiration and only 1% inspiration.”
The original quote refers I think to “Genius” and I certainly do not think I fall into that category, but it applies as well to nearly all scientific endeavour and I have found this quote quite helpful – especially at times when I have hit a brick-wall. I think it also reminds us that persistence is vital, something I’d certainly emphasise to anyone starting their PhD.
If another scientist wanted to collaborate with you, what is the best way for them to connect with you?
ResearchGate seems to be a good portal for connecting scientists – I try and upload all my reports and papers on there, copyright permitting, so people can see what I have worked on. It can be a bit annoying if people contact me at random asking to collaborate on something I have never worked on, or in a few cases even heard of – they clearly haven’t bothered to check what my areas of work are and that doesn’t make a good initial impression.
Email of course is an option but be aware that I often get nearly 100 emails a day so it is quite challenging to keep on top of it all. In many ways a phone call can be the best way to circumvent this.
When I have suitable projects I can often include summer-students and in past years I have enjoyed looking after students from Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Spain. I especially enjoy the exchange of cultural ideas, as well as the science, and I really hope that such opportunities will continue post-Brexit.
Thanks again to Clive for taking time to answer my questions. I found it encouraging to hear that despite the state of global fisheries there is evidence that some stocks are recovering where scientists and those in the fishing industry are able to work together.
I also loved the twist on the ‘Genius’ quote, and that Clive is keen to protect jobs in the fishing industry and positively impact the lives of people around him. It would of course be great to see some long term funding for research that is able to do this in such a way that protects stocks and jobs for generations.
Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. Don’t forget you can add your comments below, and I would love to hear from you. I also appreciate it when you share the blog on your favourite social media.
See you next week for another interview.