Influential fisheries ecologist Steven Berkeley dies at age 60

Steven A. Berkeley, an influential fisheries ecologist whose research helped propel the expansion of marine reserves, died at home in Scotts Valley on June 27 after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 60.

A research biologist at Long Marine Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Berkeley was deeply concerned about declining fish stocks, and he brought his expertise in both policy and fish ecology to the effort to improve fisheries management.

Berkeley was an avid outdoorsman who loved "anything associated with water or mountains," said his wife, Susan Sogard. The couple moved to Santa Cruz in 2001 and enjoyed fishing, whitewater kayaking, hiking, and skiing.

A dedicated and passionate researcher, Berkeley co-organized a symposium for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2005 to showcase new evidence suggesting that fundamental assumptions underlying current fisheries management practices could be wrong. Berkeley's own research on West Coast rockfish revealed that large, old females are far more important than younger fish in maintaining fish populations because they produce higher quality larvae. That work came to be known colloquially as the "big, old, fat female" hypothesis.

Rockfish, which can live for 50 years or more, likely suffered under management policies that reduced the number of old fish and assumed that remaining young spawners could sustain the population. The collapse of the West Coast rockfish populations and Berkeley's insights helped build momentum for marine protection efforts, including the marine reserve system, which was recently expanded to include new areas along California's central coast.

"Steve's work was always aimed at informing policy and improving fisheries management," said Churchill Grimes, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service laboratory in Santa Cruz. "He had a lot of impact. Advocates of marine protected areas were quick to recognize what protected areas could do for the big, old, fat females."

Throughout his career, Berkeley was engaged with efforts to shape fisheries management policy. Most recently, he served on the influential Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) of the Pacific Fishery Management Council and chaired the Advisory Committee for Marine Ecosystem-based Management. Formerly he served on the SSC for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council as well as the U.S. Highly Migratory Species Advisory Committee and a number of working groups evaluating fisheries management aspects of marine protected areas. He was also president of the Marine Fisheries Section of the American Fisheries Society. In 2002, Berkeley was featured in the PBS documentary, Empty Oceans, Empty Nets, which spotlighted fish as animals in desperate need of protection.

Before joining UCSC in 2001, Berkeley was a faculty research assistant in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University for nine years, where he conducted research on the ecology of rockfish and sablefish. During nearly eight years as a fishery biologist with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in Charleston, South Carolina, Berkeley helped develop management plans, modified gear to reduce by-catch in pelagic long-line fisheries, and improved stock assessments for fish species in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Berkeley earned a master's degree in marine science (fisheries) from the University of Miami and a bachelor's degree from Beloit College.

Berkeley is survived by his wife, Susan Sogard, of Scotts Valley; his mother, Yetta Berkeley, of Queens, New York; his brother, David Berkeley, of Atherton, CA; and nieces Jessica Berkeley and Lauren Freer, both of New York City.

A private memorial service is planned. A scholarship in Berkeley's name is being established with the American Fisheries Society.