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.