Using data synthesis to understand seafood and marine ecosystems in a changing climate: Q&A with Halley Froehlich, PhD
Dr. Halley Froehlich is an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Learn more about her research here.
Tell us a little bit about your research at UCSB…what topics are you currently exploring?
My research largely revolves around understanding the sustainability of seafood and marine ecosystems under climate change now and in the future, with a particular emphasis on aquaculture (i.e., aquatic farming).
Why did you decide to become a scientist, and specifically, why did you decide to focus on seafood and food systems?
It was not a linear path! That is for sure. Both my parents are scientists, so appreciation for the sciences was prominent growing up. I was also raised to love the outdoors, camping and fishing nearly every summer near my home state of New Mexico. My grandfather was an albacore fisherman, so I come by it honestly. But I was also a rebellious teenager and originally wanted to be a fashion designer (I know, what?). So, it took some time to wind my way back to the sciences, mostly catalyzed by extraordinary lecturers and professors during my times as an undergrad. Teachers really can change your life. Studying seafood specifically emerged from working in a sturgeon lab as a technician during my undergrad years at UC Davis (three years). That lead to my time studying Dungeness crab (the best crab, I might add) at the University of Washington for my Ph.D. (five years of my life), and finally global offshore aquaculture for my postdoc at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS; another four years).
One of your specialties is data synthesis. How does it complement traditional research?
Have you ever heard the phrase “we are swimming in data?” Well, synthesis science – a specialty of NCEAS – takes that to heart and essentially harnesses the collective works and data from around the world to answer large scale and/or long-term questions that could not be easily addressed by a single scientist.
How can data synthesis be applied in policy and practice?
Data synthesis allows us to see the broader trends and patterns of a system, like seafood, which can help in understanding the positive and negative consequences of something like aquaculture, for instance. This is can be particularly useful for policymakers or managers because it can highlight tradeoffs and data gaps, giving them a better foundation of what to expect (to the best of our knowledge) when implementing new rules and regulations.
Based on your research, what are some of the greatest opportunities for marine aquaculture?
From my research, what I am finding, along with my colleagues, is marine aquaculture can be a way to produce a lot of food with less of an overall impact when compared to other forms of food production, especially animals. While this doesn’t mean zero impact, because it is a food system, generally aquaculture, especially when managed well, has a lot of potential help to meet the growing demand for food and ideally lift some of the burden from land-based farming. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but aquaculture will certainly continue to be the dominant form for future seafood production.
What are some of the greatest challenges? Do we have the scientific knowledge and technology to do it right?
We do have a good sense of “good” versus “bad” practices for aquaculture. Supporting good actors in a system where people want cheap seafood is a grand challenge. This goes for wild fisheries as well, I might add.
What role can scientists play to support efforts to bridge theory and application, specifically for marine aquaculture development in the U.S.?
Science is critical for planning, managing, and protecting marine ecosystems. Scientists can help provide the objective understanding and data to help policymakers make strategic decisions, especially when thinking long-term. But that is only if that information gets articulated and received at that level and not stuck in the “ivory tower.”
What are 2-3 messages that you think the public should know about marine aquaculture?