Courtesy of Andrea Odell

California Graduate Student Awarded National Marine Fisheries Fellowship

Boyce Upholt

Andrea Odell, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Davis, has been awarded a three-year National Marine Fisheries Service-Sea Grant Joint Fellowship.

Odell is among seven graduate students nationwide who were selected for the competitive research fellowship, which aims to increase national expertise in two fields: population and ecosystem dynamics or marine resources economics. As the name suggests, the fellowship is a collaboration between the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), also known as NOAA Fisheries, and Sea Grant, and is intended to strengthen the connection between the two programs.

Odell’s fellowship research will focus on improving models used to assess the status of fish populations (i.e. fisheries stock assessments). While fish growth rates are often a critical part of stock assessment models, this aspect is often oversimplified by assuming that fish grow at a consistent rate regardless of local or seasonal conditions. Odell plans to investigate a type of model, empirical weight-at-age (EWAA), that accounts for more realistic variability in fish growth, and determine how sensitive this model is to different quality input data from coastal Pacific Hake (Merluccius productus). Better assessment models could help improve management practices for multiple important commercial fishes, especially as climate change makes oceanic conditions and thus growth rates increasingly variable. Odell received a bachelor’s degree in aquatic and fishery sciences from the University of Washington in 2018 and has previously held fellowships with the National Science Foundation and UC Davis’ Public Scholars for the Future program.

“This feels like a gateway to my desired career as a federal fishery scientist — but this is about more than just my career goals,” Odell says. She notes that in fisheries meetings, she is often the only scientist of color in the room. “The fellowship is an opportunity to create a more welcoming environment for future fishery scientists from all backgrounds. Bringing diverse perspectives into science only serves to improve it.”

Fellows are chosen through a competitive process that involves a national review by an expert panel. Fellows receive support for up to three years and are guided by at least two mentors — one from the fellow’s university and one from NOAA Fisheries — as they work on thesis problems of public interest, and participate in an annual symposium.

Since the fellowship launched in 1990, Sea Grant and NMFS have supported over 150 Ph.D. students. A 2018 review of the program found that 92% of fellows remain in their field. About 40% of fellows work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, mostly as fisheries scientists.