Centennial Story 78: Richard (Rick) Methot (BS, 1975)

My path to, and back to, UW SAFS has taken a few turns. An impressionable high school sophomore in Massachusetts visited John Hughes at the Massachusetts State lobster hatchery and caught the aquaculture bug. Two years later, I was enrolled in the UW College of Fisheries. There I made ends meet by guiding tours of the salmon hatchery and keeping Frieda Taub’s continuous culture glassware ultra-clean while learning what fisheries was all about. During my first year, Vince Gallucci stood before our intro statistics class and informed us that he was not going to teach us statistics, he was going to teach us how to talk to statisticians. This was prescient of my jack-of-all-trades path to success. A year later, I found myself dissatisfied with scratching the surface of math, so I dropped the Differential Equations for Biologists class and headed to the Math Department where I got the quantitative background that has served me well. I am not a mathematician or a statistician or an ecologist or an oceanographer or a computer programmer, but have dabbled in all enough to connect the dots and write Stock Synthesis; I get ahead of myself. Doug Chapman and Allyn Seymour facilitated my eclectic tendency and I flew the nest again to Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) to work with Allyn’s colleague, oceanographer and engineer John Isaacs.

At SIO, I soon developed an affiliation with Reuben Lasker’s laboratory in the NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC). It was the right place at the right time, and I was able to conduct the first field applications of daily growth increments in larval fish otoliths for my PhD thesis. I became fascinated with the fish recruitment process and designed a net to sample 2–3 cm fish that were too quick for plankton nets and too small for midwater trawls. Alas, I never could get ship time to use it, but today I still get inquires about it, and I am pleased that others have found it useful. At the time, UW’s quantitative fishery science diaspora was becoming well represented in La Jolla, and I fell in with that crowd, particularly Bob Francis, and I saw my future in stock assessment, not juvenile fish ecology. In 1980, my postdoc with Loo Botsford at Bodega Marine Laboratory briefly brought me full circle as the lobster culture work at Bodega had been influenced by the same John Hughes that had gotten me started.

In December 1981, my long tenure with the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service began. I started working on anchovy assessments at the SWFSC, and in 1983, the germ of Stock Synthesis (SS) was fertilized. In hindsight, it seems I was able with that model to bridge what I often see today as a gulf between the reductionist paradigm of the statisticians and the idealistic mechanistic models of ecologists.

I made it back to Seattle in 1988 with the NMFS Alaska Fisheries Science Center, where the strong connections to UW were active and productive. My work with Pamela Mace as the Northwest representative for development of the Stock Assessment Improvement Plan put me again in the right place at the right time, In 2002, I managed to get a NMFS position that allowed me to stay close to fishery science in Seattle, maintain my active affiliate position at the UW, and inherit leadership of this plan that she and Bill Fox (PhD, 2012) had developed.

Sorting anchovy in 1998. Rick is in the U of W t-shirt. Immediately to the left of Rick is Gary Stauffer (MS, 1969; PhD, 1973) and Paul Smith is on his left.
Sorting anchovy in 1998. Rick is in the U of W t-shirt. Immediately to the left of Rick is Gary Stauffer (MS, 1969; PhD, 1973) and Paul Smith is on his left.

My portfolio as national stock assessment coordinator included messaging the “bang-for-the-buck” to garner Congressional support for stock assessment science. It was a straightforward message:  we had the 1996 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act calling for quantitative science to guide the ending of overfishing and we knew how to do the stock assessment science; we succeeded remarkably.  NMFS added surveys and staff and started new programs.  Meanwhile, my science project was converting SS to ADMB and take its outreach national and global, for which I earned the Deptartment of Commerce Gold Medal in 2008.

Rick receiving the Department of Commerce Gold Medal in 2008
Rick receiving the Department of Commerce Gold Medal in 2008

One national program sought to develop the NMFS-academic connection to support a pipeline of qualified fishery science candidates for NMFS positions. This included the NMFS–Sea Grant fellowships in population dynamics and support for key academic positions to serve as the nexus for the pipeline. What better place to do that than in Seattle with the critical mass of UW, NMFS, and the International Pacific Halibut Commission? Soon I was on a UW search committee with Ray Hilborn, interviewing a candidate, the young André Punt, for that nexus position. We chose wisely. The UW quantitative fishery science program has been a tremendous boon for NMFS. With André and/or Ray, I have served on committees for UW SAFS graduates Jason Cope (MS, 2001; PhD, 2006), Melissa Haltuch (PhD, 2008), Carey McGilliard (MS, 2007; PhD, 2012), Ian Stewart (MS, 2001; PhD, 2006), and Ian Taylor (PhD, 2008; QERM). Several were Sea Grant fellows, and all went on to work for NMFS as stock assessment scientists. Heck, we now even have NMFS staff leading a SAFS graduate class—the class project being the mainline stock assessment for a west coast groundfish stock. A greater success I cannot imagine. The SAFS weekly quantitative science seminar and weekly assessment ThinkTank catalyze the innovations occurring here. Following one amazingly insightful ThinkTank discussion, Arni Magnusson (MS, 2002; PhD, 2016) wrote me to remark that only at UW could such a discussion have occurred.  I am proud to be a graduate and a continued affiliate.

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