UMaine Research Student Spotlight: Impacting fisheries – Robert Boenish

Robert Boenish believes now is the time for fisheries and marine conservation efforts to become more sophisticated – and his research work at the University of Maine will contribute to the future of how we interact with the ocean.

Growing up on a small island off the coast of Washington state, Boenish says his marine-related interests began at a young age. As a Ph.D. student in marine biology at UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences, he has continued to investigate the marine ecosystems in his new home in Maine – and others around the world. He’s explored small-scale coral surveys in the Caribbean, spatial dynamics of Chinese fisheries, European Union fishery management, and lobster/Atlantic cod in the Gulf of Maine.

The College of Natural Science, Forestry and Agriculture recently acknowledged Boenish’s contributions by presenting him with the 2018 NSFA Graduate Research Excellence Award. His research accomplishments and the quality of his research and scholarly activity elicited high praise from Yong Chen, professor of fisheries sciences, who recommended Boenish for the award.

Boenish measuring fish
Boenish evaluating Atlantic cod bycatch from the Maine lobster fishery.

“Robert’s research is critical in improving the quality of the data and fisheries stock assessment,” said Chen. “He certainly has a bright future in the field.”

During his four years of doctoral work at UMaine, Boenish has published five academic papers, served multiple international fishery consulting roles and contributed to scientific knowledge spanning from China, to multi-national coral reefs, to the Gulf of Maine. He also spearheaded efforts to synergize labs in the Northeast by establishing a transdisciplinary group of researchers.

“I am proud to say this group is the first of its kind in the Northeast to deal with the impacts of bycatch mortality on stock assessment,” said Boenish.

His work could significantly impact marine life, fisheries and ecotourism around the globe. Boenish credits UMaine with providing opportunities to collaborate with researchers on five different continents and gain experience he will use in the future.

“My experiences have set me up for a dream post-doctoral position to make an impact in improving international fisheries and marine conservation,” said Boenish.

While his research has a worldwide reach, the majority of his work has been focused on improving understanding of fisheries in the Gulf of Maine and has shed light on fine-scale dynamics of the Maine lobster fishery. Boenish hopes the largest benefits from his work will be realized locally.

“Did you know that in Maine alone, there are roughly 65 million lobster trap hauls per year?” asked Boenish. “I hope my work has to some extent repaid the privileges that Maine has afforded me.”

“We live in a beautiful state with amazing natural resources, so it seems fitting that we should understand them.”

Boenish received research funding for his work from Maine Sea Grant. More information can be found on their website.