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‘Always the plan’

Fall graduate is first PhD in Marine Institute’s 58-year history

Campus and Community

By Moira Baird

For Dr. Tomás Araya Schmidt, a 2013 summer internship at the largest flume tank in the world set him on a path to becoming the Marine Institute’s first PhD graduate.

Dr. Tomás Araya Schmidt will receive his PhD in fisheries science during fall convocation on Oct. 20.
Photo: Angie Bishop

At the time, he was in the final year of his bachelor degree in fisheries science and engineering at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso in Chile.

“I spent three months with the Marine Institute’s Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Resources (CSAR), helping with the flume tank testing and building fishing gear, and then I returned to Chile to complete my degree.”

He also made plans to return to Newfoundland and Labrador.

“For what I do as a fisheries technologist, if you want to be at a good place it’s here at the largest flume tank in the world,” he said. “I worked in Chile to learn a little bit more, to save some money, get married and come back here with my wife, Constanza. That was always the plan – to come back. Things are much better here in terms of research and what I do, so we ended up staying.”

On Thursday, Oct. 20, he will receive his doctorate in fisheries science during fall convocation at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.

Fisheries research

Following his undergraduate degree, he spent two years as a fisheries inspector checking fishing boats, gear and fish landings.

“Seal fat worked pretty well as an alternate bait to squid.” — Dr. Tomás Araya Schmidt

In 2015 he began his master’s degree in environmental science in Memorial’s Faculty of Science.

“At the time, there was no fisheries science program at Marine Institute. I also worked at the flume tank with Dr. Paul Winger, the CSAR team and the Norwegian folks on sea trials for Barents Sea snow crab pots and using different bait types.”

He worked with the Norwegian research institute, SINTEF, and the Arctic University of Norway.

“We used offal from seals because there is an active seal fishery in Norway. The seal fat worked pretty well as an alternate bait to squid.”

New doctorate program

Dr. Araya Schmidt was among the first students to enrol in the Marine Institute’s fisheries science doctorate program launched in 2017 and offered by the School of Fisheries.

His research focused on the northern shrimp fishery: developing rolling footgear for bottom trawls to reduce seabed impacts and developing bycatch reduction devices to reduce the unwanted catch of juvenile redfish.

“We calculated we could reduce seabed area contact by about 70 per cent,” he said. “We’re also going to use what is known as behavioural bycatch reduction devices and use the behaviour of redfish to help them escape.”

He is now a post-doctoral fellow working with CSAR and will continue this research for the next two years.

“The next step is constructing a bottom trawl with the full 18 wheels and we’re going to compare this with traditional gear – that’s the plan for this year. We’ll make videos of the wheels and also compare catch rates to see if we’re catching the same amount of shrimp and hopefully less bycatch species.”

Growing family

It has been a busy seven years for Dr. Araya Schmidt, whose family includes six-year-old Mateo and three-year-old Victoria.

His wife started a home business, Newbornlander Baby Store, manufacturing a variety of baby products including bibs, hats and blankets.

“Constanza started it when our first child was born in 2016 and now we have a new store, workshop and a few employees.”

He also aims to continue his sustainable fisheries research.

“My plan is to keep working in this type of research — fishing gear technology — to try to reduce impacts whether it’s here at the university, fisheries department or somewhere else. I would love to stay here in the province another five years or more. We like it here.”

The words "fall convocation 2022" are in cursive and all caps over a damask and claret background.

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