The first I heard of Dr. Pauly was while I was watching a presentation put on by the Linnean Society in London called “Shifting Baselines: Why we so readily accept the progressive decline of the natural world.” This concept of “shifting baselines” really struck a note with me. Through research I discovered it wasDr. Pauly who coined the term for explaining fishery stocks. Funnily enough when I moved back to Vancouver I looked to see where he lived for this project and voilà he is one of us!
Dr. Pauly is a fisheries professor at UBC and co-founder of the largest free fish data base called “Fish Base.” The site covers all 33,000 fresh water and marine fish species of the world. The site receives about 50 million hits a month by students, instructors, scientist, world wide and is thee authority on fish.
“It is better to have a passion that connects you with people, than a passion that elevates you and nobody else.”
- dr. d. m. pauly
What does passion mean to you? Passion, I don’t use the word, because this University loves to talk about passion. On the other hand, abiding interests, and hard work, I am willing, not only willing, but I am pushing for certain issues that are dear to my heart.
What is your most meaningful passion? In the fisheries field, usually people do very good in depth work on their region, and they know everything about this fish or that fish. I don't work in such depth. I try to maintain, to make available, data that allow an assessment of the state of fisheries generally in all countries. So I don't go into depth in any of them, I try to connect the smaller ones to make bigger data available.
Through freedom of information, I would like these same fisheries data sets available to scientists working in undeveloped countries, as they are available in developed countries. Locally, I would like to contribute to even the odds between colleagues working under un-preferable conditions and privileged colleagues working here.
What moment in your life influenced you? I grew up in Switzerland which had no marine fisheries, and discovered marine fisheries during my studies in biology at first and later oceanography in Germany. The reason why I went out of Europe was because I felt like what you call a visible minority; I didn’t feel very comfortable, not in my skin, not that I was discriminated against, however, I felt singular, so I expatriated myself.
I worked in Indonesia, I worked Africa and Philippines the longest. I think it was good for me that I expatriated myself because I was able to contribute. My work was more appreciated than if I had stayed and became one of many, and I could make more of a difference where I was.
The 60’s shaped me ideologically if you’d like, young people wanted to change things for the better. It is very different from now where you see students going from one place to another with their little Starbucks cup and their gluten free snacks. You think what the heck? Everything has become completely individualistic.
What struggles keep emerging? Every time you say something about the world, there would be somebody else who is mad at you because they didn’t say it. Basically you can measure your impact, and perhaps the relevance of your work one way or the other by the kind of enemies you have, and I have accumulated quite a few.
In my field this battle, fisheries is a very applied field until recently was basically assumed to be in support of the fishing industry. Fisheries research is done so the fishing industry can thrive, however, this is an industry that is suicidal. This industry will alienate its resource and then you have to find them something else, some other resource because they have wiped out everything.
Basically, the notion of a fisheries scientist (which is what I have learned to be, and what I am), have deliberately and consciously at least the past 20 years, sided with the conservation community; to do this is explicitly rare.
What motivates you to continue? Once you get started, you have your fingers everywhere, you are obliged to continue until you croak on the job. Simply because you are committed, you start something, you have to finish it. If you succeed in doing the things you said that you would do, then more people want you to do more things of that kind.
Basically in the end all your energy, your passion, and devotion to the cause, becomes in a sense turned against. You cannot escape, and it’s very difficult to do so, at 69 I should be able to think about retirement, but I am simply not permitted. Especially, as I am gradually becoming (as far fisheries is concerned), a public figure.
How does your passion connect you to society? When I was based in developing countries, I always felt I was a bit privileged compared with people living in those countries (although in Europe, I was not in a privileged situation). That always was an additional motivating factor; By giving free access to information to developing countries, they can be elevated as well.
Any recommendations? They have to learn stuff before. The passion or the stuff they do, if it is a quirk and it is quirky, and pertains only to them, they should not be surprised if success is a conation, takes time, or if there is none, you have to have a passion.
It is better to have a passion that connects you with people, than a passion that elevates you and nobody else. I would say that at least for scientists, if you want to be noted, you would have to pick important topics. If you pick a topic that is inherently local, or limited interest to a small community or stakeholders and you don't think about how can it be scaled up and more relevant to more people as an “example” or a “first case” of something bigger, then don't be surprised if it stays there.
“Abiding interests and hard work, I am willing, not only willing, but I am pushing for certain issues that are dear to my heart.”
- dr. d. m. pauly