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Change of direction

Marine Institute graduate applies math skills to fish stock assessment

special feature: Class of 2020

Part of a special feature celebrating and recognizing the Class of 2020 at Memorial.

By Moira Baird

Life as a fish stock assessment scientist was not on the radar for Andrea Perreault, whose undergraduate education focused on math, physics and statistics.

Andrea Perreault is collecting a master’s degree in fisheries science in stock assessment this fall.
Photo: Angie Bishop

She considered becoming a statistician – until she discovered the mathematical and statistical challenges of developing fish stock assessment models and contributing to sustainable fisheries.

“I love it. What I was doing for my undergrad was very theoretical, so I like being able to apply those skills to solving real-life problems.”

The new fall graduate completed her master’s of science degree in fisheries science (stock assessment) at the Marine Institute’s School of Fisheries. She is continuing her graduate studies at the institute with a PhD in fisheries science.

Different path

Originally from Halifax, N.S., Ms. Perreault holds a B.Sc.(Hons.) in math from Mount St. Vincent University.

Her path to fisheries science started with an email to the Marine Institute’s Dr. Noel Cadigan, asking if he would be her supervisor.

“It was a total fluke that I contacted Noel because he was cross-appointed in statistics. He wasn’t sure if he was taking on stats students, but he was taking on fisheries science students in this new program and it just kind of evolved from there. I never would have found it on my own.”

She applied and joined a team of researchers at the Centre for Fisheries Ecosystem Research working with Dr. Cadigan, who is the OCI Industrial Research Chair in Fish Stock Assessment and Sustainable Harvest Advice for Northwest Atlantic Fisheries.

“We now know that we can finish anything that we want to because we have that staying power.” — Andrea Perreault

During the 2018-19 academic year, Ms. Perreault received the Canada Graduate Master’s Scholarship from the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada valued at $17,500 and the Dean’s Excellence Award from the School of Graduate Studies valued at $5,000.

The following year, she was made a fellow of the School of Graduate Studies in recognition of outstanding academic achievement throughout a graduate program.

New assessment model

Ms. Perreault’s research focuses on American plaice, a flat fish stock that collapsed in the mid-1990s. To develop an assessment model for this stock, she pored over decades of fisheries data, ran countless computer simulations and learned a lot about fish biology.

“We developed a state-of-the-art model for American plaice,” she said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty in the data that goes into the stock assessment model for plaice and we developed a model that accounts for a lot of this uncertainty.”

Those uncertainties include complexities in fish landings and survey data that span large geographic areas or different times of the year.

Ms. Perreault and three co-authors explain the new model in a paper published this month in the Journal of Northwest Atlantic Fishery Science.

“When the world gets a little bit back to normal, we’ll be able to present and explain why we think this model is a better fit for the stock.”

Graduation speaker

Ms. Perreault is also one of several new graduates who pre-recorded a speech for Memorial’s Hats Off! virtual graduation celebration on Thursday, Oct. 29. In the video, she passes along some words of wisdom from her mom.

“She used to always say to me, ‘The difference between students who graduate and those who don’t is staying power.’

“I know now she meant that the students who really make it are the ones who put in that extra hour or read that chapter one more time. Not only do we have degrees, but we now know that we can finish anything that we want to because we have that staying power.”

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