Centennial Story 11: Vera Agostini (PhD, 2005)

I came to the PhD program at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Science from Rome, Italy, my birthplace. After a handful of years teaching on schooners with the Sea Education Association, and starting to learn the tricks of the trade as a visiting scientist with the Fisheries Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, I decided it was time to get some good grounding in fishery science. I was a bit hesitant at the start, as I found the only course I took on fisheries management during my MS degree very boring, but a desire to engage in science that had some real world application moved me to take the leap and start a PhD at UW.

Vera Agostini

I was lucky to join Bob Francis’ lab, as he had attracted a group of bright and fun scientists (John Field, PhD 2004; Rishi Sharma, PhD QERM 1998; Sarah Gaichas, PhD 2016; Jodie Little now Toft, PhD 2009; Lorenzo Ciannelli, PhD 2002; Are Strom, PhD 2003; Kerim Aydin, PhD 2000), who were there in the pursuit of answers to questions related to climate change impacts and ecosystem dynamics. The Francis Lab never had a shortage of stimulating conversations, good humour, faithful camaraderie, and political debate. Bob, our fearless leader, pushed us all to think outside the box. He skilfully fostered a spirit of inquiry in us that, to this day, I still very much appreciate. I was lucky to also find many good friends and colleagues in the rest of the SAFS community (Alex Zerbini, PhD 2006; Jo Smith, PhD 2008; Nathalie Hamel, PhD 2009; Juan Valero, MS 2002, PhD 2011; Noble Hendrix, MS, 2000, PhD 2003; Ivonne Ortiz, MS 2002, PhD 2007; and John Mickett in Oceanography, just to name a few) and to have access to the wider SAFS, NOAA-NMFS community (Warren Wooster; Anne Hollowed, PhD 1990; Ray Hilborn; Andre Punt; Julia Parrish; Dave Fluharty). All of them, in one way or another, thoughtfully supported my research and development. My dissertation focused on understanding the response of Pacific Hake and Pacific Sardine to climate variability, and teasing out the implications for management of these two species.

After completing my PhD, I took another leap and joined the world of conservation, doing my post-doc with Ellen Pikitch at the Pew Institute for Ocean Science. Then I joined The Nature Conservancy’s Global Marine Team. There, I found myself carrying the flag of fisheries, with my work focused on trying to bridge the gap between what sometimes seemed like unnecessarily distant communities, fisheries and conservation. I happily learned about conservation and resource management in, and travelled to, distant areas of the world, engaged in projects on, and strategy development for, mainly tropical areas. Areas of focus included: multi-objective priority setting, marine spatial planning, and climate adaptation of coastal communities.

After 10 happy years with The Nature Conservancy, I decided it was time for another leap. Recently, I again joined the Fisheries Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome, Italy— this time as its deputy director. Among a few other things, I am back helping to bridge the gap between fisheries and conservation, but this time from the other side.

Just like my study species, I have clearly been a great migrator, living in and adapting to distant places such as Seattle, Miami and Rome. I still fondly remember and keep in touch with many of my friends and colleagues of the SAFS community. Only as the years progressed and I

became engaged with other research communities, I realized how lucky I was as a student at SAFS. The support we received from the faculty, the exposure to the NMFS labs in Seattle, and the sense of community that SAFS fostered between faculty and students alike are unique and were critical to my development. I still miss that, and sometimes get a glimpse of it—through even a brief communication with SAFS colleagues and friends—that I know will remain for a lifetime.


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