By Peg Van Patten, Connecticut Sea Grant
Tessa Getchis, aquaculture Extension specialist for Connecticut Sea Grant, was instrumental in bringing stakeholders and regulators together for discussions that ultimately expanded USDA’s policy on crop disaster assistance to include additional species and methods of cultivation, such as bottom culture for shellfish and rope culture of seaweeds. Tessa also leads the Connecticut Shellfish Initiative. She and her colleagues were recipients of UCONN’s 2014 Innovative Programming in Extension Award.
It’s National Seafood Month, what is one thing everyone needs to know about local seafood?
Buying local is an opportunity to meet the fisherman/farmer who puts food on our plates. What better way to learn where and how our food is grown and what it takes to make keep it safe, fresh and delicious!
What is something cool you learned while working on local fisheries?
Fishermen are so in tune with the environment they work in. Their daily observations can clue us scientists into seasonal or annual patterns, trends and fluctuations in populations of marine organisms, climate and marine ecosystem health (e.g. water quality).
What drove you to work on local fisheries?
My earliest memories are of digging clams and fishing with my dad. He identified and taught me all about the creatures we would see on our trips. I heard stories of how everything – the bass, bunker, eelgrass, etc. were all more plentiful when he was growing up. If people were going to continue to eat seafood, someone needed to figure out what was causing all of these changes. This triggered what would be a lifelong journey in the field of science.
Connecticut Sea Grant aquaculture extension specialist Tessa Getchis. Image: Connecticut Sea Grant.
How did you get involved with Sea Grant? When did you join Sea Grant?
I began my Sea Grant experience in Rhode Island where as an undergraduate I volunteered to participate in a research project with the late Dr. Grace Klein-MacPhee. She and Dr. David Bengtson were leading the research on the potential for marine fish culture in the region. My graduate research focused on certain aspects of marine finfish aquaculture was partially funded by the local Sea Grant program. My mentors presented their work to a variety of groups including scientists, policy makers, fishermen and farmers. In many of their presentations, the focus was less on the science and more on the big picture – discussing the challenges and opportunities for growing the marine fish farming industry in the region. It was at these meetings that I started to learn what “extension” and “outreach” meant.
I joined the Connecticut Sea Grant program as an aquaculture specialist in 2000, where I began to put those early experiences to work.
What is your favorite part about being a Sea Grant Extension agent?
Each day I get to work with very passionate people. I am surrounded by fishermen, farmers, researchers, regulators, community groups and Sea Grant colleagues that have a vested interest in protecting and enhancing this special coastal area we call Long Island Sound.
What is the biggest challenge you face at your job?
One of the biggest challenges to outreach work is getting the passionate people I work with to see each other’s perspectives, especially when those perspectives are vastly different. When it happens though, the payoff is huge.
What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?
Facilitation. As it turns out, it's becoming a more common part of Extension work.
What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?
Get out on a boat and talk to a fisherman/farmer. Spend a day volunteering with a state fisheries manager. That’s a perspective you don’t get from a book.
And how about a personal favorite book?
My favorite local read is “Tiggie- The Lure and Lore of Commercial Fishing in New England by Paluso and Macfarlane. And, of course, “The Old Man and The Sea” by Hemingway. I just can’t get past the images that are conjured up when the fishermen sits in that small boat in the sea.
Do you have an outside hobby?
I love to run. I also love to explore the coast on my paddleboard. When I’m hungry I dig some clams for dinner. I live in a really cool place.
What surprised you most about working at Sea Grant?
It’s not really a surprise, but something I learned on day one. Sea Grant is about the community we are connected to. We are a small staff, but we collaborate with a myriad of organizations to conduct research and get the word out about Connecticut’s coastal and maritime resources and challenges. Our strength is in our partnerships.