MACDARA O CUAIG – OUR PEOPLE, THE MARINE INSTITUTE
Macdara O Cuaig – our people, the Marine Institute. In 2021, the Marine Institute is profiling our people, sharing their study and career paths, the work they do at the Marine Institute and the important contribution their work delivers.
What is your current role at the Marine Institute and what’s involved in your daily work?
I am a Fisheries Liaison Team Leader in the Fisheries, Ecosystems and Advisory Services team and my role is to develop and manage the collection of scientific data in conjunction with the Irish fishing fleet. Our fishermen are at sea every day and observe many fluctuations and changes of fish stocks and other parameters whilst at sea. My job is to work with the fishermen to collect data in a manner that can be fed into the assessment processes the Marine Institute and the International Council of the Seas (ICES) use to assess the state of the fish stocks. I work closely with fishing organisations, skippers, data collectors and the assessment scientists to ensure that we maximise data collection and that the data is collected and used in a scientific manner in line with international best practice. It is a great job, as every piece of data we collect is helping to ensure that we get the best possible assessments which will lead to best advice and management of our highly valuable natural resources.
What did you study and why?
I grew up in Connemara with a view of the sea on three sides so I spent my childhood by the shore and went fishing with my uncle from a very early age. Many of my mother’s family were fishermen, both my granddad and my great grandad fished. On my father’s side, my great-grandfather was one of the boatmen who traded turf on the Galway Hookers over a hundred years ago. I would go fishing with my uncle during the school summer holidays and while studying marine science at NUI Galway. Following a Higher Diploma in Fisheries Management, Development and Conservation at University College Cork I completed a Research Masters, focusing my research on the shrimp stock we fished at home. After college, I was fortunate enough to get a job at the Marine Institute and have been here since, working on a range of projects – from sampling at sea with commercial fishermen to participating in acoustic, demersal and inshore surveys, laboratory work on fish ageing, tag and release experiments on cod and monkfish and working with fishermen on developing management plans that allows them continue to earn a living in areas of protected sensitive habitats. A full range of activities, but all linked to ensuring that this generation and the ones to follow can enjoy and respect a sustainable natural resource from our waters.
What are you interests and passions?
Funnily enough, the sea and the coast is one of my greatest passions. I love being by the sea, be it on a boat or walking the shore. I love talking to the coastal people who have generations of knowledge about their local environment in their culture of stories, song, place names, vessel types and names. I find it hard to drive past a pier without stopping to see the vessels tied there to see how they are rigged to the local conditions, fisheries and recreation. I believe it is important we do not get disassociated from our natural environment and that coastal people, especially those who work at sea, are very finely in tune to their surroundings. We can all learn from this local knowledge and remind ourselves of the responsibility we have to leave our best possible mark for the generations to come.
What is the best thing about working in the Marine Institute? What do you enjoy most about your job?
The best thing about working at the Marine Institute is the team approach to our work. Every employee along the line has a sense of the importance of the responsibility to do their bit to the highest standard, to pass on to the next, who in turn will do the same all the way along until the assessments are complete. This creates a great sense of achievement as we all do our bit to get the end result. Also, it means that we can easily ask a colleague for advice and guidance as this helps us all achieve the highest standards. In my current role I find it really satisfying when skippers and I work together to integrate their observations into the scientific system. The more observations we have, the more accurate our assessments become, it is really satisfying when the fishermen and I can help make this a reality.
What is something you think everyone should know about the ocean?
I think that everyone needs to remember how connected to the ocean each living person on the planet is – from the air we breathe, to the water we drink, we should remember how much of it came from the ocean (more than 50% oxygen) or is held in the ocean (more than 95% water). We are all connected – with each lapping tide on our coasts containing water that has traversed the planet over millennia. Reminding us all, from the highest villages in Peru to the beaches of Connemara, of our collective responsibility to protect and preserve what sustains us.