Fishing for funding

by Town Reminder

South Hadley native hopes to gain funding to pursue striped bass study


By William Pead
Turley Correspondent

SOUTH HADLEY – The tradition of Marine Biology meets the modern art of crowd funding.
Robert Murphy, a 2008 South Hadley High School graduate, is working to parlay the two into a doctorate at Northeastern University.
He’s already earned a B.S. in Marine Biology, and now his Ph.D research and dissertation project is centered on documenting the health of an important recreational game fish: the striped bass, and its prey.
As he explains on his website, “Over the next two years, I will be conducting an extensive research project aimed at understanding the complex interactions between striped bass and other important species, like lobster. This project will use state-of-the-art techniques to better understand marine ecosystems in order to inform policy.”
Murphy said when his family moved to a house close the Connecticut River, that’s where his interest in fish developed. He fished with his father in the local streams.
“I definitely developed a curiosity for aquatic life early on,” he said. “And I knew I always wanted to do marine science.”
As an undergraduate at Northeastern, he said he had the opportunity to go to Panama and Washington State and do a variety of research projects to broaden his interest.
Fisheries, and their influence on coastal economies peaked his interest.
With the University’s Boston location near a Marine Science Center in Nahant, on a finger of land jutting out into the bay, north of the city, Murphy had the hands-on research experience he needed.
Farther north along the waters of Marblehead and Salem harbor are the areas where striped bass now congregate in large numbers.
How striped bass interact with their environment and prey, like lobster and crab, is of particular interest in determining their long-term numbers. This is where the crowd-funding aspect comes into play.
Such research costs money, and helps provide that.
Murphy said to think of as similar to Kickstarter for products. But this is strictly for scientific research.
“It’s mostly universities and graduate students who try to fundraise money for scientific projects,” he said.
To contribute any amount to Murphy’s project, visit Contributions so far have exceeded 70 percent of the $10,000 goal, with less than a week to go.
Murphy, who is also a talented nature photographer, is offering a printed photo from his portfolio to donors who pledge $100 or more.
And, for generous donations of $500 or more, a photo and naming rights for one of his tagged striped bass is available, along with the chance to monitor the fish for two years.
All donors, regardless of the amount, will receive regular updates on the project as it progresses.
As for his future after earning his PhD, Murphy said he sees himself going to work as a fishery manager, either working for an organization like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries.
Eventually, he said, he could see himself going back into education and teaching.