Welcome to Zachary Witzel, who joined the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) in August 2020 as a large river fisheries ecologist.
Zachary's path toward a career in science started young.
“My parents always encouraged me and my sister to ask questions and fostered our interest in the natural world. We were always outside, fishing, camping, hiking, or just exploring the woods,” Zachary said. “My favorite shows as a kid include Nature, Nova, and any other show which had a science or nature aspect to it.”
As time went on, studying fisheries seemed like a natural fit for Zachary.
“I grew up using nearly all the natural resources that water has to offer and I would just like to have a hand in conserving those resources for future generations,” said Zachary.
Zachary attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where he earned his undergraduate degree in 2016. While completing his degree, Zachary gained valuable field experience working for the Wisconsin USGS Fisheries COOP unit. He went on to work at the Michigan State/Michigan DNR Black River sturgeon rearing facility for 2 years, where he assisted with various lake sturgeon research projects.
In January 2018, Zachary began graduate school at Western Illinois University, where he studied gill net selectivity of bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), silver carp (H. molitrix), and five other commonly encountered species in the Upper Mississippi River.
Zachary is excited to continue studying Asian carp as a large river fisheries ecologist with the INHS Illinois River Biological Station.
“I am looking forward to becoming a better researcher and to helping reduce the upstream movement of bigheaded carp in the Mississippi River,” Zachary said.
But the day-to-day reality of being a fisheries scientist isn’t what many people think it is—just sitting in a lab or bringing a fishing rod to work and fishing all day.
“It is a rough and dirty job,” said Zachary. “It is hard work and I have dealt with more disgusting things than most people will probably have to deal with in their lifetime, but I love the work.”
But for those that love fisheries science, it’s a career path worth pursuing.
To aspiring fisheries scientists, “Be the best you can be and take every opportunity you can,” Zachary says. “Just because you have a degree does not mean you will automatically get a job. You must build yourself up and work hard to be in this field.”