Barry Johnson: Where is he now?

Barry Johnson credits his experience as a former Ph.D. student supported by Wisconsin Sea Grant with preparing him to be an independent researcher and in helping him disseminate his findings to natural resource managers.

Johnson, now a branch chief at the U.S. Geological Survey, Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (UMESC), in La Crosse, Wis., was supported by Sea Grant during the 1980s for two projects. For the first, Johnson developed a computer model to look at the effects of a commercial harvest quota system on the yellow perch population in Green Bay. For the second, he helped develop a general fish bioenergetics model that could be applied to different species. Retired UW-Madison professor James Kitchell guided Johnson in these projects.

For the Green Bay perch project, “We concluded that the measures the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had put in place would likely meet their goals for allowing both a commercial and sport harvest while sustaining the perch population,” Johnson said. “Our model supported the concept of a quota to provide the desired management outcome.”

Johnson said that since then, it’s become apparent that a quota wasn’t the only answer in ensuring good perch reproduction, but given information available at the time, it was an effective tool.

Johnson said the fish bioenergetics model gained him more professional attention than his perch work, thanks in part to the power of Sea Grant outreach. “Jim Kitchell and his students had developed a number of fish bioenergetics computer models that were specific to particular species,” Johnson said. “My work built on that and on a general model developed by post-doc Steve Hewitt that managers could apply to any species for which they had appropriate information.” The model was designed to help managers determine how fish grow and how much they eat under different environmental circumstances and conditions of fishing mortality, Johnson said.

With the help of former Sea Grant Green Bay Outreach Program Manager Cliff Kraft Johnson developed a series of workshops to teach resource managers and researchers how to use the bioenergetics model. The workshops were conducted throughout the U.S. and internationally in Sweden and Canada.

“My time in Madison prepared me to be an independent researcher at the highest level,” Johnson said. “The folks in Madison are at that level, and you can’t help but have some of that rub off on you.” He also credits the experience with helping him learn how to develop a research program that applies directly to management issues, and he said it broadened his perspective in the fields of fisheries and aquatic ecology.

“It was an excellent experience,” Johnson said. “The kind of experience I would hope all Ph.D. students could have.”

After leaving Madison, Johnson worked his way up from biologist to branch chief at UMESC. The branch conducts the Long Term Resource Monitoring Program (LTRMP) on the Upper Mississippi River System and is part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Upper Mississippi River Restoration – Environmental Management Program. The LTRMP monitors fish, water quality and vegetation along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and is a model of multi-agency partnership. It is funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, uses state employees to staff six field stations and supports research need of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the states. In 2008, Johnson and the LTRMP were recognized with an award for partnership on applied research questions.

Johnson sums up the Sea Grant student experience like this, “Students can get funding from a variety of sources, but Sea Grant’s infrastructure, both in Madison and around the state, provides extended support that was critical for the work I did and in bridging the academic and management communities.”