Meet the Tuna Squad

Perspectives | Apr 7, 2023

The Pelagic Fisheries Lab, led by Dr. Walt Golet, is supported by a range of talented young researchers. Hear about what got them interested in this field, what they are working on now, and what advice they'd give younger students looking to get involved in research.

Walt Golet holds the severed head of a bluefin tuna before extracting the inner ear bone for chemical and physical analysis.

Dr. Walt Golet is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maine's School of Marine Sciences and a GMRI Research Scientist leading the Pelagic Fisheries Lab. He was recently one of a few UMaine faculty awarded the UMaine Faculty Mentor award. The Pelagic Fisheries Lab is on the cutting edge of research around highly migratory species like Atlantic bluefin tuna, and Walt leads an exceptional cohort of graduate students and early-career researchers along the way. We heard from some of his students about what inspires them to do this type of research, what advice they'd give others interested in getting involved, and more.

This is a photo of a man smiling.
Walt accepting his UMaine Faculty Mentor award.

Kay Zipp

Kay completed her undergraduate degree at the State University of New York School for Environmental Science and Forestry where she found her love of fish and otoliths, a small ear bone with big implications for fisheries research. Kay came to UMaine and GMRI during the summer of 2022 after completing her masters at West Virginia University where she studied fish consumption of microplastics in large navigable rivers. Her doctoral dissertation centers around the spatial distribution, age, and growth of Atlantic bluefin tuna.

Kay Zipp

The staff photo for Kay Zipp
Kay Zipp PhD Graduate Student
What inspired you to pursue a career in this field of research?

I grew up on a little island called Broad Channel in Jamaica Bay, Queens. Jamaica Bay is more formally known as Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, an urban National Park. My entire childhood centered around the bay's ecology and the tides. I spent my formative years running the mudflats, staring at monarch butterflies as they stopped on their long migrations, and enjoying watching horseshoe crabs as they visited to breed. I didn't know I wanted to do environmental research, but I think to everyone else, it was pretty clear from my involvement in elementary school science fairs.  As a teenager, I moved to Oneonta, NY, where I explored a different ecosystem and fell in love with rivers and streams. I competed in an environmental competition called Envirothon. Like many others, I wandered in college, going the doctor route and settling into ecological science. It was a fisheries management course with Dr. Karin Limburg at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, where fisheries science clinked, and I thought, "Wow, I want to do this for the rest of my life."

What is your specific research focus, and what do you hope to learn through your work?

My dissertation focuses on Atlantic bluefin tuna's population structure and life history. Through my dissertation work, we are trying to learn more about population mixing in the Mid-Atlantic Bight.

Tell us about a recent project you worked on, and what you learned from it.

Before joining Walt's lab, I conducted my master's research at West Virginia University with Dr. Kyle Hartman, studying microplastic in three sympatric black bass species in the tributaries of the Ohio River. We were the first to look at microplastic in the tributaries and were shocked by how much we found.

What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing a career in pelagic fisheries research?

Enjoy the ride. I didn't start in pelagic fisheries or even marine biology. I just loved fish and exploring fisheries science. My first research project was researching hypoxia exposure in Trout-perch in lake ecosystems. I conducted my masters in West Virginia, where I studied microplastic consumption in black bass species and worked on a variety of other projects spanning from brook trout to larval fish to crayfish. It seems like a world away, but skills transfer.

What do you appreciate about Walt as a mentor?

Firstly I appreciate Walt's approach to science. It never seems like a job to him. He brings joy and humor to everything he does. He is completely engaged with the science at all stages and willing to get dirty with us. The second thing I appreciate about Walt is that he genuinely cares about his students and team. My grandmother, one of my primary caregivers as a child, began to get sick in June and has declined throughout my time in Maine. In March, we reached the crescendo, and she is currently in Hospice. I was forced to work from NY to care for her and handle her end-of-life affairs as a medical proxy and power of attorney. Walt supported me throughout this experience in my work endeavors and reminded me to care for myself. His support has allowed me to stay on track through this challenging time.

Joe Dello Russo

Joe received his B.S. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he focused on distribution shifts of marine species due to climate change and angler responses to depredation events.

After graduation, Joe worked in a diverse set of sectors to build a wide toolbox for approaching fisheries research. Some of this work found Joe down in the Florida Keys tagging great hammerhead sharks, in Massachusetts streams chasing sea-run brook trout, and in Downeast Maine assessing Atlantic salmon populations.

Joe’s dissertation work will be focusing on spatiotemporal distributions of yellowfin tuna and behavior change in relation to capture and predation. Joe will also evaluate post-release mortality of commercial-sized Atlantic bluefin tuna off New England.

Joe Dello Russo

The staff photo for Joseph Dello Russo
Joe Dello Russo PhD Graduate Student
What inspired you to pursue a career in this field of research? 

I grew up in a congested community outside of Boston, which afforded me the perspective of the ocean being a place of community and ecological importance but also allowed me to witness the negative impact humanity can have on our environment. My connection to the marine world really grew through my upbringing as a recreational angler targeting stripers throughout Boston Harbor and beyond. It was a complex place for someone interested in marine science to cut their teeth in, but pushed me toward a career in understanding fish and fishing.

What is your specific area of research focus, and what are you hoping to learn through your work?

A lot of my research focuses on movement ecology and tagging of Atlantic tunas. It is important to understand movement patterns and population connectivity as we think about a dynamic ocean and shifting priorities within fisheries management.

Tell us about a recent project you worked on, and what you learned from it.

I can share a project we are stoked on and gearing up for and can share what we hope to learn from it! This summer, we will be putting 45 satellite tags out on commercial sized Atlantic bluefin tuna as a part of our new post-release mortality study on these fish. We surveyed the fishing fleet to identify the most used gear type and will ride along with charter captains this summer in an attempt to evaluate how well these fish do after release. We hope to have a two pronged delivery, with explicit data on mortality estimates within a catch and release fishery for use in management, and a set of best practices for the public to use as guidelines as a way to optimize survival after capture!

What advice would you give to students who are interested in pursuing a career in pelagic fisheries research?

Find good people doing good things! I would be nowhere near where I am if I didn’t involve myself with researchers during my undergraduate career who became my biggest advocates and provided me with invaluable experience. Even if the research isn’t on your desired species, the questions that you answer are much more important.

What do you appreciate about Walt as a mentor?

The applicability of Walt’s research is what initially drew me to his lab. Being able to address management needs of species through research is the goal of much of my work, and it’s important for research interests to align with your advisor. It is also important that your advisor is a compassionate and understanding person. As I’ve gotten to know Walt, I appreciate the creativity in which he approaches the needs of his students and staff. Always willing to be generous with his time and flexible with his planning, Walt creates a lab culture that allows his students to develop as scientists and as people.

Sammi Nadeau

Sammi began working at GMRI in September of 2018 after acceptance as a Master of Science candidate under Dr. Walt Golet at the University of Maine. Sammi’s master’s thesis was titled “Evaluating the Foraging Ecology and Energetics of Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) in the Gulf of Maine (GOM).” Through stomach content analysis, energetics, and stable isotope analysis she observed shifts in the foraging ecology of ABFT from 2018–2019. Sammi received her Masters of Science in 2021.

Prior to GMRI, Sammi attended the University of Maine (Orono) from 2014–2018 and earned a Bachelor of Science in Marine Sciences with a concentration in Marine Biology. At the University of Maine, Sammi worked with Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon on the Penobscot and Kennebec rivers. Her research focused on the use of a new morphometrics technique as a non-invasive method to sex shortnose sturgeon. After she completed her undergraduate degree, Sammi transitioned to the Maine Department of Marine Resources at the Milford dam spending her days capturing, tagging, and conducting research on Atlantic salmon and other anadromous species.

Sammi currently works in the Pelagic Fisheries Lab as a Research Associate on a variety of projects including close-kin mark-recapture, HMS tagging, and Atlantic bluefin tuna otolith processing and aging.

Sammi Nadeau

Samantha Nadeau Research Associate
What inspired you to pursue a career in this field of research? 

I grew up in Maine, but never lived very close to the ocean. When we had the opportunity to go to the beach or on some coastal camping trip, I could never get enough. The ocean always had my attention and I knew that I wanted to be a marine biologist from a really young age. This career path was solidified when I was in elementary school - I had an opportunity to attend Diver Ed’s Drive-In Theater in Bar Harbor, ME. This local cruise included a close-up look of marine animals as Diver Ed swam underwater with a camera. Live specimens were also available to observe and gently handle. This single experience sent me on the marine biology path and I have been hooked ever since!

What is your specific area of research focus, and what are you hoping to learn through your work?

My graduate work focused around the foraging ecology and energetics of Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Maine. The primary components of this project were stomach content analysis, energetic analysis, and stable isotope analysis. Through this work, we evaluated prey shifts, foraging patterns, condition of tuna and prey, and how these variables have changed over time.

Tell us about a recent project you worked on in Walt’s lab (or previous to joining Walt’s lab) and what you learned from it.

Now my focus is much more diverse with projects ranging from tuna population structure (tagging and aging) to sustainability and marketability. Being a part of all of these projects has deepened my passion for marine biology and has allowed me to become a more confident and thoughtful scientist!

What advice would you give to students who are interested in pursuing a career in pelagic fisheries research?

My advice to students interested in pelagic fisheries research is to learn how to be an effective communicator not only with your peers, but also stakeholders, managers, community members, and industry members. We rely on fishermen and dealers be able to conduct our research and creating and maintaining strong avenues of communication is essential to overall research objectives and stock status.

What do you appreciate about Walt as a mentor?

There are many things that make Walt a great mentor, including his approachability and positive personality, his vast knowledge not only for HMS, but many other species and concepts, and his commitment to providing us with an environment that allows us to learn, grow, and be successful as young researchers. Walt provides us with many opportunities that we may otherwise not have and genuinely wants us to achieve our goals while also contributing to the greater HMS collective. He makes working in the lab extremely enjoyable and never passes up an opportunity to lighten a mood (he’s a big jokester, but in the best way)!

Blaise Jenner

Blaise received his B.S. in marine biology from the University of New England where he assisted on a variety of different research projects including Atlantic sturgeon movement and diet in the Saco River, and a pilot study to evaluate the discard mortality of Atlantic cod caught in the Maine lobster fishery. After graduating, Blaise worked in a variety of different positions including as a fisheries observer in the Northeast Fishery Observer program, he sampled bluefin tuna heads to collect otoliths for Dr. Golet during a commercial bluefin tuna season and is currently employed at the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

A collaboration between the Pelagic Fisheries Lab and the Maine Department of Marine Resources has allowed Blaise to focus his master’s thesis on the foraging ecology of Atlantic bluefin tuna, and to establish a long-term monitoring project of their diet in the Gulf of Maine. This project will determine if recently observed trends in diet represent a short-term shift or a long-term trend.

Blaise Jenner

This is a headshot of a man on a boat smiling and holding a fish.
Blaise Jenner Graduate Research Assistant
​What inspired you to pursue a career in this field of research?

Since I was a young child, I have loved to catch fish and spent time on or near the ocean, and even before I knew what a marine biologist was, I knew I wanted to spend my life working with fish in the marine environment. While attending the University of New England for my undergraduate degree, I was exposed to many facets of marine biology, but after hearing a presentation by Walt on bluefin tuna movement, I knew I wanted to pursue a career working in pelagic fisheries.

What is your specific area of research focus, and what are you hoping to learn through your work?

My specific area of research is the foraging ecology of Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Maine, and to establish long term monitoring of foraging ecology for bluefin tuna. A recent study by a previous student in Walt’s lab showed an increase in the reliance on Atlantic Menhaden coupled with a decrease in Atlantic herring. My goal is to determine if this shift in diet originally detected in 2018–2019 is a short-term change or a long-term trend. In addition, by establishing a long-term data set of foraging ecology, future changes in diet can be observed in more real time.

Tell us about a recent project you worked on in Walt’s lab (or previous to joining Walt’s lab) and what you learned from it.

I am a recent addition to Walt’s lab, starting in the winter of 2023, but recently I have been able to finish processing tuna stomachs from the 2022 commercial bluefin tuna season. I have observed the continuation of a trend where the presence of Atlantic herring in bluefin tuna stomachs has continued to decrease while Atlantic menhaden presence has continued to increase. This trend which was first seen in 2018–2019 by another student in Walt’s lab, in 2022 this trend only became more pronounced. Atlantic menhaden are managed in an ecosystem context, therefore this relatively new reliance on Atlantic menhaden by bluefin tuna could impact management decisions when it comes to this important forage species.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in pursuing a career in pelagic fisheries research?

My advice would be to get involved with research and field work as early as possible, that way you can really find out what interests you as you move forward in your career. Also, like many careers, a career in pelagic fisheries research or marine science in general is not a straight path, there will always be twists and turns, but keeping an open mind to opportunities can help you grow as a scientist.

What do you appreciate about Walt as a mentor?

One thing I appreciate about Walt as a mentor is that he always encourages his student to think about additional questions or avenues to take your research, which allows you to get the most out of a project. Walt is also easy to be around and quick with a joke which can make an otherwise stressful time more relaxed and enjoyable.

Read More

  • Tuna School: Crash Course on a Local Delicacy

    Tuna School: Crash Course on a Local Delicacy

    Atlantic bluefin tuna can present some challenges for seafood consumers looking for responsibly harvested options. These highly migratory fish are a complex species to manage, …


  • Bluefin Tuna Milestone

    Bluefin Tuna Milestone

    Dr. Walt Golet and his Pelagic Fisheries Lab celebrate a significant sampling milestone.


  • Gulf of Maine, Explained: Bluefin Tuna

    Gulf of Maine, Explained: Bluefin Tuna

    Dr. Walt Golet studies the populations and life histories of many species of fish, but if you ask him, he'll tell you bluefin tuna are …

    Gulf of Maine, Explained

  • 2022 Research Progress Update

    2022 Research Progress Update

    To keep you updated on our research team's progress, we've developed a report showcasing some of the achievements from our labs. More broadly, this report …