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Spotlight on Commerce: Dr. Larry Alade, Supervisory Research Fishery Biologist, Fisheries’ Northeast Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Guest blog by Larry Alade, Supervisory Research Fishery Biologist, Fisheries’ Northeast Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

I am a research fishery biologist and a task leader for the Population Dynamics Branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) s Northeast Fisheries Science Center at the Woods Hole Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. My primary role as a research fishery biologist is to investigate and develop models to assess the health of fish populations in the region and to advise the federal fishery management process. This involves studying and monitoring changes in fish abundance, distribution, and demographics (such as size, age, and sex); measuring and quantifying impacts of fishing activity, and understanding biological and physical processes within the ecosystem that contribute to the observed changes in the fishery resource.

As a task leader, I provide leadership support to the day-to-day operations and lead several groundfish stock assessments in the region including yellowtail flounder, American plaice, and whiting. I also serve as the NOAA representative on the New England Fishery Management Council’s Small-Mesh Whiting Planning Development Team. In addition to my domestic fisheries responsibilities, I am a member of the Advisory Committee of the International Council for Exploration of the Seas, which supports the advisory process for more than 200 European fish stocks. 
I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. Around age six, my family moved back to their home country of Nigeria. I spent most of my formative childhood years growing up in the city of Ile-Ife, a small ancient city of the Yoruba tribe located in the southwestern region of Nigeria. Due to the political and economic instability in Nigeria, my family decided to move back to the United States in the early 1990s to Brooklyn, New York, where I completed high school at age 16.

I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Maryland College Park with the original intent of pursuing a medical degree. Little did I know, my interests would evolve after taking a few courses in calculus during my sophomore year in college. Over time, I developed a keen interest in mathematics and applied statistics, but I was still uncertain about my academic path. 

In search of a new direction after my undergraduate studies, I pursued several experiential opportunities within the IT industry from data processing to computer networking. Through these experiences, I was able to redirect my focus and consider a degree in computer programming. In 2000, I was accepted into a master’s degree program in applied computer science at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES). Unfortunately, the job market after graduation was challenging, and I again needed to reevaluate my career path. During this transition, I learned about a unique internship program jointly hosted by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center and Jackson State University. The program was a four-week introductory course on population dynamics followed by a six-week hands-on experience at an assigned NOAA research facility.

During the summer of 2003, I was assigned to intern at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center at the Woods Hole Laboratory. I truly enjoyed this work and decided to go back to school to pursue a graduate degree in Marine Estuary and Environmental Sciences at UMES. As a graduate student, I had the opportunity to work with the Cooperative Research Program at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center with a focus on tracking fish populations using large-scale mark-recapture studies in the region. Through this experience, I served as chief scientist on several Cooperative Research cruises on fishing industry vessels and led a field study design and development of analyses to further refine the estimation of fish tag recoveries from mark-recapture modeling efforts. I was able to develop my graduate dissertation work from this large-scale Cooperative Research Program effort, with emphasis on model development and performance testing of a spatially-explicit simulation model for yellowtail flounder.   

Upon completion of my doctoral degree, I began my career as a fishery biologist with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center and it has been a gratifying experience. Population dynamics is a challenging field and can be frustrating, but it is also somehow rewarding. It has a direct impact on livelihoods and communities and it is important to me to contribute to this process. Working in a region with a very dynamic and complex marine ecosystem, there has never been a shortage of learning opportunities and professional growth.  

In addition to my primary responsibilities, I take pride in supporting activities related to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and I have had the pleasure to mentor students and staff from a range of backgrounds. Locally, I am a member of the Woods Hole Diversity Advisory Committee and co-chair of the Woods Hole Black History Month committee.

In my spare time, I serve as committee treasurer for our local Boys Scout organization on Cape Cod. More recently, I have been volunteering at my church, serving on the tech team to support weekly programming for both remote and in-person attendance.

From my perspective, the significance of Black History Month is not only to commemorate the great achievements and contributions of many African Americans but also to recognize and appreciate the legacy of African Americans in the American narrative. Carter G. Woodson, an African American historian and founder of Negro History Week in the early 1920’s, said, “If a race has no history or worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world.” As such, I believe Black History Month establishes a framework to support equal rights for African Americans through a value system that cannot be otherwise achieved through legislation. I also think that Black History Month is a reminder that we stand on the shoulders of many who paved the way to ensure a better future for our Nation. 

As a federal civil servant, I recognize the inherent connection between the legacy of those who sacrificed and created opportunities for me today. It is important that I use my platform to reciprocate, by giving back to the communities we serve.

As a marine science professional, I hope that one day our workforce will begin to mirror the community we serve, by continuing to expand opportunities to talent from underrepresented populations who are capable of ensuring the future economic and cultural sustainability of marine resources and communities. 

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce African Americans during Black History Month.