Fisheries Science

Story by Hamish Howard

Faculty of Science, 2018


New Zealand’s territorial waters cover an area 15 times larger than the nation’s land mass and are of great cultural, scientific, recreational, and economic value. The commercial seafood industry generates over $4 billion in economic activity annually, including $1.8 billion in exports. Despite these facts, marine science programmes (fisheries science in particular) within the country’s leading tertiary education institutions have historically been of limited quality, size and scope. However, over recent years, this lost opportunity has begun to be addressed.

Victoria University of Wellington

For the School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, the last decade has been bookended by the 2008 completion of the $5 million Victoria University Coastal Ecology Lab (VUCEL), Te Toka Tū Moana, and the recent opening of the $100 million Science Teaching & Research Building, Te Toki a Rata. These structures are physical evidence of Victoria’s focus on leading New Zealand in the biological sciences and have been complemented by a significant increase in permanent academic staff and postgraduate students, particularly in the marine sciences.

In 2013, the position of Chair in Fisheries Science was created with the intention of developing a specialised research programme to inform and support New Zealand’s fisheries-related industries. Dr Matthew Dunn held this position until 2016, and in 2018 Dr Alice Rogers joined Victoria as a lecturer in Fisheries Biology and picked up where Dr Dunn left off in realising the aspirations behind this position.

Dr Alice Rogers

Originally from the United Kingdom, where she completed a PhD in Marine Ecology from Imperial College London, Dr Alice Rogers has spent most of her career working in the tropics of both the eastern and western hemispheres.

“My broad area of interest lies in the impacts of climate change on fish and fisheries,” says Dr Rogers. Of specific interest to her are the effects of habitat change and environmental degradation on community dynamics, and how they influence the productivity and sustainability of fisheries. Her research typically employs a combination of fieldwork and mathematical modelling to understand population and community dynamics and to predict future responses.

Dr Rogers’ most recent work quantified the impacts of coral reef degradation and destruction on the value and productivity of associated coral reef fisheries. A video of Dr Rogers discussing this work, as a researcher for the World Bank-funded Capturing Coral Reef and Related Ecosystem Services, can be seen below.

Dr Rogers says she is, “passionate about how fishers and managers anticipate and prepare for future change in their fisheries”. She hopes to provide tools to predict future changes and help form management strategies and solutions that will ensure the long-term value and sustainability of New Zealand’s fisheries.

“In New Zealand I hope to expand my research on the effects of climate change on fisheries, by shifting my research focus more towards our temperate oceans,” says Dr Rogers. Looking at the likely “tropicalisation” of temperate ecosystems such as kelp forests, where warming waters and tropical invaders may influence New Zealand’s coastal fisheries, is an example of this.

Dr Rogers is also interested in the links between coastal habitats and offshore commercial fisheries, including changes to important nursery habitats and knock-on effects on adult populations. Identifying, understanding and managing threats, such as terrestrial runoff and water quality issues resulting from the continued intensification of aquaculture and coastal development, is central to this.

In her new role at Victoria, Dr Rogers will be contributing to both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Marine Biology, with a focus on fisheries. In 2019, she hopes to develop a postgraduate course dedicated to fisheries that will provide students with the necessary skills and knowledge to contribute to and work within fisheries-related industries.

Victoria University of Wellington

Kelburn, Wellington 6012, New Zealand