Centennial Story 2: William G. Clark (PhD, 1975)

In 1969, I had a degree in economics and mathematics from the University of Michigan, but what I really wanted to do was to go to graduate school and build computer models of marine ecosystems. I interviewed at a number of oceanography departments, and they all turned me down because I didn’t have any undergraduate credits in biology. UW was my last stop. Tom English interviewed me and, not surprisingly, said I didn’t have a chance of getting into the oceanography department. “But,” he said with only a hint of condescension, “Fisheries might take you.”

Bill Clark and Gary Stauffer (PhD, 1973) at sea in the 1990s

And Fisheries did. Jerry Paulik took me into the newly formed Center for Quantitative Science, where he, Doug Chapman, Brian Rothschild, and Don McCaughran taught courses in population dynamics and the like. It was just the kind of program I was looking for. There was a strong group of graduate students in the program, including Gary Stauffer, Jim Balsiger, Bill Fox, Tim Smith, and Gary Morishima. Bill Lenarz and Chuck Fowler had completed their graduate degrees recently.

Quantitative fishery science was at an early stage in 1969. Computers were primitive, and computer time was expensive.  The quasi-Newton methods of numerical minimization that we all use today to fit models had not yet been devised, to say nothing of automatic differentiation. My doctoral dissertation was a VPA of the Peruvian anchoveta fishery. I got a PhD for doing a VPA. It was state of the art. Imagine that.

My dissertation research in Peru had been arranged by Jerry Paulik and done under the auspices of the FAO development project there, which in turn led to a job at FAO headquarters in Rome for four years with John Gulland and Luit Boerema and other great people. I returned to UW in 1979 when Doug Chapman recruited me for a research faculty position doing assessments of great whales. I also did some teaching (including Fish 558, where one of my students was Ana Parma). On Don Bevan’s recommendation, I served as the technical advisor to the federal court in the Boldt case. After that, in the mid-1980s, I moved to work for the state of Washington, where I did a lot of line management, but also sat on the scientific committees of both the Pacific and North Pacific Fishery Management Councils. I returned to technical work in 1988 when Don McCaughran hired me as staff biometrician at the IPHC.

When I first sat on the regional fishery management councils’ scientific committees in the mid-1980s, modern age-structured, numerically fitted stock assessments had just been developed. But, only a couple of stocks were actually assessed that way. Part of the problem was a dearth of age data, but more important was a dearth of people who could handle the statistical and computational demands. There weren’t many who could, and I wasn’t one of them. Fortunately, I was working at the IPHC with Pat Sullivan and Ana Parma, who had just completed PhDs at SAFS and moved in the orbit of Dave Fournier, Ray Hilborn, Carl Walters, André Punt, and Jim Ianelli. That same army supplied the present generation of highly capable people who are doing the state-of-the-art stock assessments for Alaska and the West Coast today.

I am retired now, but I still go to the Alaska groundfish meetings and the SAFS seminars. Quantitative fishery science has advanced dramatically since my grad student days, and it requires constant study to stay abreast. Thanks to SAFS, and a little help from my friends, I’ve been able to do that. In 2019, which will be the school’s centenary, I will have been a SAFS student for 50 years.




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