Sunday, March 1, 2015

Mentor Profile with Brandon Taro, Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Brandon Taro has been the Fish Health Program Coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department for the past five years. He has a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology from the University of Wyoming, and a Master of Natural Resources from Utah State University. Brandon started working for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in 1999 as a laboratory aide before taking a contract position as a laboratory technician doing PCR for whirling disease in the same lab. He was then hired by the USDA Agricultural Research Service to work on West Nile virus for a year. In 2001, Brandon was hired by the National Center for Design of Molecular Function, part of Utah State University’s Research Foundation, working with a group of engineers to develop and test biodefense detection technology for viruses, bacteria, and toxins of importance. After three years with that group, Brandon went to work for the Institute for Antiviral Research where he advanced to managing the Hepatitis B and prion disease research programs, and helped with the West Nile virus program.

When Brandon came to the Fish Health program with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, he had plenty of laboratory experience and no fish health background. Brandon jumped in with both feet. He learned the nuances of diagnostic and inspection work, studied the Blue Book, started updating protocols and laboratory practices, and brought the program into alignment with the guidelines of the Blue Book and the needs of the fish culture program. The Wyoming Fish Health program currently inspects ten state-run aquaculture facilities at least once per year as well as six private facilities. They also inspect up to nine feral brood stock populations during spawning in addition to performing disease diagnostics (bacteriology, parasitology and virology) for the state. During the course of a year, the Fish Health program travels about 30,000 miles to some of the most beautiful places in the state of Wyoming, and attends the Western Fish Disease Workshop and the Rocky Plains Pathology Group. With the recent purchase of a building designated to serve as a new wildlife forensics, fish health, and tooth aging laboratory, the Fish Health program is looking forward to the opportunity to update and expand their laboratory and capabilities.

Brandon is one of the coordinators of the 56th Annual Western Fish Disease Workshop which will take place June 2 – 4, 2015 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. More information about the meeting can be found in the FHS newsletter and online registration is now open.

1.      How did you get to where you are today?   
I got a little lucky in finding this job.  I was working as a virologist, studying Hepatitis B, West Nile, and prion disease, when this job opened.  I had worked for the lab previously, so I had a contact. I looked into the position, applied, and was hired.

2.      What do you like most about your current job? 
I get to travel all over Wyoming inspecting our facilities. They are all in great locations in beautiful places all over the state.

3.      When and why did you first become involved with AFS and the FHS?  
My position is required to be certified as an AFS Aquatic Animal Health Inspector or a Fish Pathologist, so I became a member when I started working for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

4.      How do you feel that FHS has influenced your career path?  
The FHS is an incredible network of very knowledgeable individuals who are more than willing to help each other out.  The communication and attitude have helped me through some tough decisions and diagnostics already.

5.     What do you see for the future of the FHS?  
I see the FHS growing and becoming more important in the future.  I see fish health labs heading toward an accreditation requirement, and I think the FHS will be the guiding entity as that comes about.

6.     What has been your favorite part about being a part of the FHS network? 
I have loved the people I meet at conferences, the relationships that are built in such a short time, and then cultivated in the working world.

7.     Who were your mentors as you were an up-and-coming fish health specialist? 
Because of my background, I jumped into fish health with both feet, learning on  the fly.  Wade Cavendar (UT), Dave Money (formerly from WY), Scott LaPatra (ID), Doug Munson (ID) and Ray Brunson (formerly from WA) have all been a great help to me in my career.

8.     What would you say to yourself now, when you were going through school? 
Consider fish health as a career option, look into internships, and study harder!

9.     If you mentor students currently or hire new graduates, what sort of qualities do you look for?   
We get a few interns in our lab, and we look for good work ethic, willingness to learn, and a quirky personality that fits in with our group.

10.    Any words of wisdom to up-and-coming FHS students and new members?  
Start building your network and contacts early, show your skills when and where you can, and be ready for opportunities that come out of the blue.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Mentor Profile with Ben LaFrentz, USDA-ARS Aquatic Animal Health Research Unit

Dr. Benjamin LaFrentz has been actively conducting basic and applied research in the area of aquatic animal health since 2000, with a special emphasis on pathogenic Flavobacterium spp. He is employed as a Research Molecular Biologist at the USDA-ARS Aquatic Animal Health Research Unit in Auburn, Alabama.  He completed his undergraduate training in Animal Ecology (Aquaculture emphasis) at Iowa State University (2000) and MS and PhD in Fishery Resources at The University of Idaho (2002, 2007).  During his graduate training, he worked collaboratively with the rainbow trout aquaculture industry on research projects aimed at developing vaccines for Flavobacterium psychrophilum, the causative agent of bacterial coldwater disease.  Through these projects, he has conducted research on host immune mechanisms, identification and characterization of immunogenic antigens, vaccine development, and identification of virulence factors of bacterial pathogens.  Currently, he is applying his expertise towards important bacterial pathogens of channel catfish and tilapia to develop new methods for disease prevention that will improve the productivity, quality, and profit of these important aquaculture species.

1.      How did you get to where you are today?
I have always had a passion for fish. As a child, I raised guppies and collected “data” on them, perhaps sparking my interest in research! After high school I attended Iowa State University and majored in animal ecology with an emphasis in aquaculture. During my junior or senior year, I took an interesting fish pathology course and felt this was my path. After graduating ISU, I was fortunate to get accepted to graduate school at the University of Idaho and obtained my MS and PhD degrees conducting research on bacterial coldwater disease. In 2008, I was hired as a research molecular biologist at the USDA-ARS Aquatic Animal Health Research Unit in Auburn, AL.

2.      What do you like most about your current job? 
The thing I enjoy the most about my job is that I am always learning something new. Research is exciting (and frustrating at times) and results from one study may lead you down a road that you never thought about traveling. Combining basic and applied research with the goal of solving a problem to improve fish health is very satisfying to me.

3.      When and why did you first become involved with AFS and the FHS? 
I joined AFS in 1999 while an undergraduate student and joined the FHS as a graduate student. At the University of Idaho, I was actively involved in the Palouse Student Subunit of the Idaho Chapter AFS and served as Co-President and Secretary. In 2004, I attended a FHS EXCOM meeting and the committee expressed interest in revamping the FHS website. I had some experience in developing websites, so I volunteered to serve as the website editor. This proved to be an invaluable opportunity as it allowed me to meet, network, and interact with many FHS members. Additionally, I have served on the Communications Committee, Student Involvement Committee, and Nominating and Balloting Committee.    

4.      How do you feel that FHS has influenced your career path? 
My involvement with the FHS has allowed me to interact with many FHS members and build lasting friendships and collaborations with other fish health professionals. It has opened the door to opportunities that would not have been possible.  

5.     What do you see for the future of the FHS? 
I see the future of the FHS continuing its long standing reputation of connecting fish health professionals nationally and internationally, promoting the science, developing professional and technical standards, and developing young professionals.  

6.     What has been your favorite part about being a part of the FHS network? 
My favorite part of the FHS network has been interacting with other members through involvement and meetings. Attending FHS meetings are rewarding for numerous reasons including learning more about current issues and research in fish health, building collaborations, meeting new people, and reconnecting with others.

7.     Who were your mentors as you were an up-and-coming fish health specialist? 
As an undergraduate at Iowa State University, I was fortunate to be advised and mentored by Bob Summerfelt. Through his mentoring, Bob introduced me to research and provided me with many of the skills that I needed to be successful. During my graduate research in Idaho, Ken Cain and Scott LaPatra taught me experimental design, research techniques, and how to write effectively. They also provided me with opportunities to attend meetings, assist with on-farm research, and explore side research projects. I will always be grateful for these mentors. I’ve met different fish health professionals with exemplary research programs, values, and attitudes which have indirectly served as mentors or role models.

8.     What would you say to yourself now, when you were going through school? 
I think it is important to work hard, keep an open mind, jump on opportunity, and find balance to ensure you play hard at times too.

9.     If you mentor students currently or hire new graduates, what sort of qualities do you look for? 
I mentor students on occasion, but I think the most important qualities are curiosity and enthusiasm.     

10.    Any words of wisdom to up-and-coming FHS students and new members? 
Get involved and build relationships with other FHS members.

Monday, January 12, 2015

56th Annual Western Fish Disease Workshop

Registration for the 56th Annual Western Fish Disease Workshop has opened. The registration website is here. The workshop will be held from June 2-4, 2015 at the Steamboat Sheraton Resort in Steamboat Springs, CO. The continuing education session will be held on June 2nd, and presentations will take place on June 3rd & 4th. This year's CE session is 'What's bugging my fish? Detection, pathology, impacts, and treatment of problematic parasites' and is RACE certified. 

More information will be available soon in the FHS Newsletter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Inspector & Pathologist Certification

As part of our ongoing commitment to highlight opportunities available to students and early career professionals in fish health, we'd like to take a moment to talk about the certification process. Individuals can be certified as an Aquatic Animal Health Inspector or a Fish Pathologist.  

The Aquatic Animal Health Inspector provides "aquatic animal health inspection services for non-mammalian species as mandated by domestic and foreign regulatory agencies…This individual has the resources to detect clinical and/or carrier disease states, as specified in the AFS/FHS Blue Book, the OIE Manual of Diagnostic Tests for Aquatic Animals, etc., as well as being knowledgeable of the necessary current sampling, reporting and regulatory requirements required to properly manage aquatic animal populations."

Conversely, the certified Fish Pathologist serves "fisheries programs and aquaculture through the evaluation and diagnosis of fish health problems, through responsible recommendations for disease control, and through the administration of programs designed to enhance the health of cultured and free-ranging fishes."

The necessary qualifications differ between the two and can be found on the individual certification website under the standards and procedures heading. The requirements can seem a little daunting at first particularly the required coursework. However, the Professional Standards Committee along with Doug Munson is working to make certification attainable for all fish health professionals, which will include accepting online courses for credit.

If you're interested in the learning more about the certification process, we highly encourage you to look at the website and keep an eye out for upcoming announcements regarding this process.

Brief Update

In addition to the update on the AFS-FHS certification process, there have been some minor cosmetic changes to the blog recently. These seemingly small changes reflect a larger change in both our purpose and goals. Specifically, we are no longer the Student Involvement Committee but are now the Student and Early Career Involvement Committee. The purpose of this change is to ensure that both student and early career members have the opportunity for greater involvement in the section and have a means to ensure that their ideas and concerns can be heard.

We'd also like to take this opportunity to reminder everyone about our LinkedIn profile. The goal of the page is to help fish health students and budding professionals find each other and get connected. We are hoping that this will allow students to gain mentorship from young professionals and provide a platform to post jobs, interesting questions and general ideas surrounding fish health. Hope to see you on there!

Finally, we're always looking for new committee members (both students and early career). We're also looking for more members interested in being profiled for the blog. (Previous profiles can be found here). If you're interested in participating, please contact us.

Monday, July 28, 2014

ISAAH-7 Update


Plans are underway for student activities at ISAAH-7. If you haven't already registered for the meeting, make sure to do so soon. You can find information about student activities and more at the ISAAH-7 student webpage.

There's still space available in both the Student Professional Development workshop and the Mentoring Social. If you've already registered for the meeting but did not sign up for those events and are interested in attending, please contact the Student Subsection committee.

For any students looking for a roommate to help defray costs, the Student Subsection has put together a Google doc for people seeking roommates.

Finally, the Student Subsection still needs mentors to participate in the student mentoring workshop at ISAAH-7. The workshop is scheduled for Monday, September 1st, from 6-9 pm at the Hilton. Appetizers and drinks will be provided to all participants.

We're looking for professionals from academia, industry, federal agencies, and post-docs. If you'd like to participate, please contact Amy Long at

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Student Profile: Daniel Hernandez

Daniel Hernandez is a PhD student at the University of Washington. Daniel's work focuses on viruses in Spring Chinook salmon. Read on to learn more about Daniel and his background.

1. What is your current research/position?
I am a graduate student and NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington. My current investigation is underway with the USGS Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle, WA.
2. What sparked your interest in aquatic animal health?
I have always had an affinity for aquatic systems as well as the health sciences. While my undergraduate training and research background is in oceanography and marine ecosystems, my continued intrigue in the health sciences has made the field of aquatic animal health a perfect discipline to receive my graduate training in.
3. What has been your favorite fisheries-related job?
To date, my most memorable fisheries-related job was a summer position I held with the Watershed group at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center. Before this position, I had limited training in freshwater system sampling. I came away that summer with an in-depth understanding of the ecology of the various stream habitats used by Pacific salmonids.  

4. What do you like most about graduate/professional school?
I enjoy the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of my research. I also appreciate having access to and learning from those carrying out science in fields of fisheries and fish health.  

5. When and why did you first become involved with AFS and the FHS?
I first became involved with AFS as I neared completion of my Bachelor of Science degree. In my junior and senior year, I had the opportunity to attend the AFS - Alaska Chapter meetings as my research interests at the time were climate change and Alaska salmon productivity. Only since my transition to doing research in field of fish health did I become involved with the fish health section of AFS.

6. What are your long-term professional goals (FHS or otherwise)?
My immediate professional goal is to complete my PhD from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington. Upon completion of my PhD, my training will span the fields of virology, fish ecology, and epidemiology making it possible to pursue a research career in any one of those disciplines. For now, “The world is my oyster” as they say. I hope that the coming years as PhD student will aid me in developing my long-term professional goals.