Refining Nemo: Musings from the Australian Society of Fish Biology Conference

The Australian Society of Fish Biology's 2018 Conference delivered some of the most engaging, intriguing talks I've had the pleasure of witnessing

As a fish ecologist living in Norway, it’s a joy to be able to travel to Melbourne and interact with the people that are driving forward fish science in my home country. So when I found out that the Australian Society of Fish Biology’s annual conference was taking place 3 days after my first flight home since 2016, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

We’re on the last day of the conference at the moment, and over the next 2 months I’m looking forward to bringing you a number of insights, including interviews with guest speakers Eva Plaganyi and Gretta Pecl and pioneers of intriguing projects like Peter Unmack and Jarod Lyon. I’ll also have a fish edition of The Changing Face of Ecology, and some articles on how the angling community and the fish science community interact in a country with one of the most unique fish assemblages in the world.

But for now I’ll give a few thoughts and impressions of one of the most enjoyable conferences that a society has ever had the low level of sanity required to allow me to attend.

The Climate Event

The second evening saw a panel of experts from the conference present a public forum on Climate Change at Sea at the Melbourne Museum, particularly timely given the release of the IPCC report earlier that day. Whilst we’re all used to fairly dire news coming out of climate science, some of the revelations here were quite striking. Alistair Hobday’s news that even meeting the Paris Agreement targets would still put us one degree above a sustainable level was worrying to say the least. I also particularly enjoyed John Koehn’s efforts at diplomacy when describing governmental attitudes to climate change over the last decade. Downward fiscal trend, indeed.

Interacting with the Angling Community

If you’ve spent almost any time on this blog, you’ll know how strongly I feel about effective scientific communication. Interaction between the fish science community and the angling community should be a strength of the industry, so is it? The general consensus seems to be that in Australia at least, there’s still somewhat of a disconnect, with mutual goals not ubiquitous and communication problems still an issue. However the plenary talk on Wednesday by Steve Cooke provided a great overview on what can make these interactions successful, which I hope many of us took on board. I enjoyed his point that your opinion won’t be recognised unless you’re at least superficially part of the fishing community, and I will be organising a few trips when I get back to Norway (when the summer kicks in anyway, that ice-fishing stuff is for the clinically insane and Finnish people).

Gretta Pecl’s Lab

I’d be remiss not to gush over this a little. Range shifts in the face of climate change are of particular interest to me, as they make up a large part of my own thesis. Add in an emphasis on SciComm and a penchant for models with tangible results (as demonstrated not only by Gretta but by her PhD student Curtis Champion’s excellent presentation), and I was sold. I’m always on board with combining well-defined and well-tested models with obvious real-world applications. Am I saying I’ll be keeping my eyes open constantly for available positions at the University of Tasmania? No, but… well yes, yes I am.

The Australian Society of Fish Biology brought together the individuals who are driving forward fish science in Australia

The ASFB’s Climate Change at Sea forum came on the same day as the release of the IPCC report (Image Credit: Sam Perrin, CC-BY 4.0)

The Vibe

Cue your best Dennis Denuto impression, your honour. I’ve been to a couple of conferences recently in which there were excellent presentations, and this is no exception. However the enthusiasm and the ability of the speakers to consistently engage an audience at this conference was the best I’ve seen yet. It certainly kept me awake after a 36-hour journey from the Arctic Circle to Australia.

I’m posting this shortly before our journey to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Conference Dinner. If I don’t make it through, this was a superb note to go out on.

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