By Cindie Powell, Texas Sea Grant
Gary Graham, Texas Sea Grant’s Marine Fisheries Specialist, has worked with the shrimp fishery for 45 years. Much of his current work focuses on efforts to reduce bycatch, unwanted species caught during commercial fishing, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern U.S. shrimp fleet. In 2014, he received the Gene Raffield Humanitarian Award from the Southeast Fisheries Association for his devotion to educating commercial fishermen, demonstration of leadership, and support of fishing communities.
Texas Sea Grant Marine Fisheries Specialist Gary Graham. Image: Tony Reisinger, Texas Sea Grant.
It’s National Seafood Month, what is one thing everyone needs to know about local seafood?
It’s sustainable. We’re managing our seafood industry — it has oversight from a number of regulatory agencies, and sustainability is a very important priority for the fishermen — so that we continue to have a consistent supply of seafood.
What is something cool you learned while working on local fisheries?
I’ve noticed through the years that not only can academia help the fishermen, fishermen can educate academia. It’s a two-way flow, and I think it’s really cool that through Sea Grant’s work we have the ability to bring those two groups together to interact.
What drove you to work on local fisheries?
I worked my way through college by fishing on a shrimp boat during the summer months, and that got me interested in fisheries. I developed a passion for it, and that led me to where I am now.
How did you get involved with Sea Grant? When did you join Sea Grant?
I was working in fisheries when Texas A&M was looking for someone who had experience and had a degree. They offered me a low-level job in 1970 and I worked my way up.
What is your favorite part about being a Sea Grant Extension specialist?
Helping people. It’s just that simple. Interacting with people and helping them, that’s the heart of Sea Grant.
What is the biggest challenge you face at your job?
The outreach part of Sea Grant was patterned after cooperative extension, taking research to agriculture to support them. For Sea Grant, the concept was “county agents in hip boots.” Where we really differ is that I work with “farmers” who stay on their tractors for 45 days at a time, 24/7, so I had to reformulate some of the outreach approaches. When you work with people who are out on the water for that long, you have to come up with unique ways to reach them, you have to go to the waterfront where they are to work with them.
Graham examines a TED on a shrimp vessel in Brownsville, Texas. Image: Tony Reisinger, Texas Sea Grant.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?
I had a great high school biology professor. He was a great teacher and made it so interesting.
What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?
From when I started in 1970 to now, I never thought I would be spending this amount of effort on sea turtle conservation. I never knew it was going to be an issue in the early days. It’s important, but I just didn’t expect it.
What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?
Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” and Charles Darwin’s “The Voyage of the Beagle.”
And how about a personal favorite book?
Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” I love it, I’ve read it to my kids, and I’m just waiting for my grandkids to be old enough to read it to them. My kids called me Santiago when they were little and we went fishing.
Do you have an outside hobby?
My hobbies are all outdoors: fishing, hunting and hiking.
What surprised you most about working at Sea Grant?
I would have never guessed 45 years ago that so much emphasis would be placed on climate change. It was not on the radar, and I never would have thought that would be an issue.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in fisheries in your 45 years at Sea Grant?
The biggest change has been in fisheries management. When I first started, there were good state regulations to control the different fisheries, but it became federal with passage of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. That was a huge change with so many implications. I witnessed Cuban vessels fishing in the shrimp fleet off the Texas coast before Magnuson-Stevens; when we went to a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, that impacted the shrimp industry because so many of them were fishing foreign waters. It had a huge influence on the vessels that came to the U.S. Along with that came new regimes of management, like the fisheries management councils, and more interest from groups like NGOs and environmental groups. The landscape is completely different from what it was 45 years ago.