Centennial Story 85: Alexandre Aires-da-Silva (PhD, 2008)

I first visited SAFS in February 2000. With a Fulbright scholarship in my pocket, I was “shopping” PhD programs in fisheries stock assessment. I felt instant chemistry with SAFS. The new building had just been inaugurated, and the atmosphere was so friendly. A stroll around the beautiful UW campus was the first of many that I would come to enjoy. There was also the U-district, where brilliant minds from the four corners of the world come to share their experiences. I would be calling it home soon, studying and writing many of my research papers in the coffee shops on “the Ave.”

Vince Gallucci, who would become my major advisor, mentor, and friend, brought me in for that first visit. He had just started his Shark Research Lab and was interested in the work on blue shark fisheries that I had been doing in the Azores. We would work together on some of his projects over the years, in particular the Alaska salmon shark project.

Vince’s background was the paper-and-pencil “analytical” school of thought in fisheries stock assessment, but he understood that I was more interested in the highly computational “numerical” approach and helped me strike the right balance between the two. Outside SAFS, I particularly enjoyed the calculus and intro to math stat classes and John Skalski’s classes in QERM; while at SAFS, Ray Hilborn’s (and later André Punt’s) FISH 458 and 558 classes introduced me to the “ecological detective” mindset and the use of maximum likelihood and Bayesian analyses—after which there was no return to the VPA I learned in Europe.

Left to right: IATTC Tuna-Billfish Group’s Chief Scientist Rick Deriso; stock assessment scientists Alex da Silva and Mark Maunder, 2007.
Left to right: IATTC Tuna-Billfish Group’s Chief Scientist Rick Deriso; stock assessment scientists Alex da Silva and Mark Maunder, 2007.

Vince also gave me the key to my dream dissertation: thanks to him, my previous work in the Azores expanded into a thesis on the population dynamics of blue sharks over the entire North Atlantic. This included working with scientists from the Apex Predator Program at the NMFS Narragansett Laboratory, among them John Hoey and Nancy Kohler, thus closing a circle: as an undergraduate, I had sent them several tag recapture records of sharks caught by Portuguese fishers.

However, my SAFS experience went beyond advanced education. Backstage at this wonderful program was a priceless human experience. I feel privileged and honored to have shared my path with a talented and kind group of students. I shared an office with Ian Taylor (QERM, 2008), with whom I learned so much, and rode the roller-coaster of grad school with an amazing cohort of international students, including Vera Agostini (PhD, 2005), Carlos Alvarez Flores (PhD, 2002), Billy Ernst (PhD, 2002), Manu Esteve (Visiting student), Jesús Jurado Molina (PhD, 2001), Carolina Minte-Vera (PhD, 2004), Arni Magnuson (MS, 2002; PhD, 2016), Juan Valero (MS, 2002; PhD, 2011), Alex Zerbini (PhD, 2006), and many others. Our profound companionship is still going strong, and fisheries aside, the immersion in Latin American culture they gave me has proved invaluable in my subsequent career.

Sampling marlin catches in artisanal fisheries; El Salvador, 2013.
Sampling marlin catches in artisanal fisheries; El Salvador, 2013.

Since 2007, I have worked at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), first under Rick Deriso (UW Biomathematics, 1978) and later Mark Maunder (PhD, 1998). It has been an honor to follow the many members of the SAFS family who have served on the world-recognized IATTC staff: William Bayliff (MS, 1954; PhD, 1965), Martín Hall (PhD, 1983), Michael Hinton (MS, 1982), James Joseph (PhD, 1968), and Carolina Minte-Vera, among others. And working with Mark, the most complete, but nonetheless humble stock assessment scientist I have ever met, has been a particular privilege. In 2017, I stepped into Rick Deriso’s shoes as IATTC Coordinator of Scientific Research, so now it’s not so much about writing assessment reports or research papers, it’s about managing talent and igniting team work. It is largely thanks to my SAFS experience that I am ready for this next stage of the long journey that started when I boarded that plane for Seattle…

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