Centennial Story 56: Robert (Bob) Conrad (BS, 1978; MS, 1983)

Growing up in Ohio next to a river, I developed an interest in fish at an early age, and—thanks to television, National Geographic, and Jacques Cousteau—a fascination with the ocean. When it came time to go to college, I decided that I wanted to go to a school with an oceanography program (at the time I didn’t even know there was a field called fisheries science). So, having an older sister who lived in Seattle, and with the UW offering oceanography, off I went to college in the summer of 1973. Soon after arriving in Seattle, and while going through the UW course catalog, my brother-in-law pointed out that there was a College of Fisheries and maybe I should check that out. After more investigation into the fisheries program I determined that fisheries science held a much greater appeal to me than oceanography, so I quickly changed majors.

Through my course work, I discovered two parts of fishery science that especially appealed to me—the quantitative aspects and computers/computer programming. In my junior year, I had the great good fortune of being hired by Allan Hartt as a student intern on the High Seas Salmon Tagging project in the Fisheries Research Institute. This project conducted salmon tagging annually on a 50-mile transect off Adak Island in the Aleutian Islands. One purpose of this research was to determine the stock origins of the salmon migrating through this area using tagging, and then to perform some of the earliest applications of scale-pattern analysis to determine the region of origin. The experience I gained from my three years working on this project, both through the field work and the analytical work, formed the basis of my professional career and is directly responsible for all my later career opportunities, my enjoyment of the work, and the longevity of my career.

Tagging salmon off Adak on the FV Commander in 1978.
Tagging salmon off Adak on the FV Commander in 1978.

After graduating with a BS in fisheries in 1978, I continued working as a biologist on the High Seas Project. This eventually led to an offer from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) in 1981 to sponsor an MS project to develop in-season methods of stock separation using scale-pattern analysis for the Chignik sockeye run. This project allowed me to further hone my analytical and computer programming skills (“micro-computers” at a field camp!). After receiving my MS in fisheries in 1983, I was hired by ADF&G, and my wife Miki and I made the long trek north. During my six-year career at ADF&G, I worked for both the commercial fisheries and sport fisheries divisions, and was able to add many new job skills to my resume (creel surveys, mark-recapture studies, and simulation modeling to name a few—plus, I learned the importance of report writing).

Bob Conrad
Bob Conrad

In 1989, I was contacted by a friend and fellow SOF graduate (Jim Scott, BS, 1980; MS 1982) about a job opening for a biometrician at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC). By this time, my family had grown to include three kids, and we missed having regular contact with our families in the lower 48. After deciding we wanted to move south, I applied for the job and was hired. I am currently the manager of the Fisheries Service Division, where I supervise a group of biometricians and biologists that provide statistical analysis and modeling support to the Tribes in their role as co-managers with the State of Washington. I will have been at the NWIFC for 30 years in May 2019. I have enjoyed my work at the NWIFC immensely because it has provided me the opportunity to work with the Tribes on a wide range of problems involving both a variety of species (salmon, halibut, crab, shrimp, terrestrial species) and quantitative methods. It has also provided me the opportunity to represent the Tribes as a technical member on committees in both the Pacific Fishery Management Council and Pacific Salmon Commission.

I am deeply appreciative of the opportunities that my education at the UW and the SOF provided me both professionally and personally. I met my wife who was a nursing student (BS, 1978) at the UW, and my twin sons also graduated from the UW with BS degrees in computer science in 2007.

 

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