Australian Society For Fish Biology

Terry Walker

When people talk about the development and history of fisheries science in Victoria, one name inevitably comes to mind, Terence Ivan Walker. Terry has lived and breathed the development of modern fisheries science and has been at the forefront of most of the advances in fisheries science, monitoring and assessment in Victoria over the last 30−40 years. While many people will identify Terry through his work on chrondrichthyans, particularly at a national and international level, his influence and legacy to fisheries in Victoria (and southern Australia) extends far beyond.

Terry was born in London at the height of the Second World War, where his father worked as a ship’s captain and in the royal navy. As an infant he moved from London to Basra – Iraq, as his father followed work in the shipping trade, before moving to Australia where he spent his childhood living in Daylesford, Victoria. Although Terry had a link to the sea through his father’s work,  his journey to becoming a fisheries scientist and chrondrichthyan specialist was not exactly predetermined. Terry’s first job in science was as an electron microscope technician and field assistant at Monash University Zoology lab in 1962. It was there that he was exposed to scientific research, and where his interest in a research career was stimulated. He then began his Bachelor of Science degree at Monash University in the mid 60s while also working part-time as a secondary school teacher. It was during Terry’s undergraduate studies that he attended a guest seminar by Alfred Dunbavin Butcher, the then Director of Fisheries and Wildlife in Victoria, the founder of the ASFB, and a fellow inductee into the ASFB Hall of Fame. Alf’s seminar was a great inspiration to the young undergrad and sold Terry on the importance of research to underpin fisheries management , it was the spark for Terry’s career path into fisheries science.

He completed his BSc majoring in zoology at Monash University in 1970, while already working as a technical officer in the marine fisheries section of the then Victorian Fisheries and Wildlife Division, based at the Arthur Rylah Institute in Melbourne. Based on this we can pin the beginning of his 44-year career working in fisheries, and indeed for the Victorian Government, to 1969. Terry remembers his first work social event - watching the astronauts step out of the lunar module on a black and white television set up especially for the landing. He started working on rock lobster and sharks doing lots of travelling during his early days to sample commercial catches for species composition, sex and size composition in Victorian ports. Terry was responsible for  getting lobster fishers to trial escape gaps in the Victorian fishery, which have ultimately become standard practice. His early work with the industry  gave him a great grounding on the fishing industry, methods and challenges faced both by the fishers and those trying to assess fisheries and manage fishing activities. Form those early days and right throughout his career Terry has maintained a great rapport and high level of respect from the fishing industry.

Terry’s important early career achievements were however, not specifically related to fisheries biology or stock assessment, but were in the area of heavy metal contamination of fish, sharks and shellfish. In the 1970s Terry discovered the high mercury pollution of Port Phillip Bay and the high cadmium concentrations in scallops and native flat oysters. This was big news in those days. He also investigating the status of 10 different metals in about 100 species of fish and shellfish. It strikes me now that he was the reason why my dad would not let us eat two large flathead we caught off a pier near Geelong in the mid-1970s for fear of cadmium and mercury poisoning. This is one of my earliest memories of fishing – not being able to eat the fish – because of Terry’s work. Little did I know that almost 40 years later I would be writing this Hall of Fame biography! . 
Terry’s early work during the 1970’s on heavy metal contamination lead to the development of a legal maximum length for managing human health risks from mercury in the school shark catch. His work also influenced authorities to alter statutory limits to mean concentrations as a food standard, the Victorian EPA to reduce mercury and cadmium inputs to Port Phillip Bay, and to use sand flathead as biological indicator to monitor mercury. Thanks to this early work by Terry, I can now happily feed my daughter flathead fillets from Port Phillip Bay.

In the late 1970s, in one of those twists that arise from departmental restructures, Terry took on his first senior role in fisheries, and ironically it wasn’t as a highly focussed fisheries scientist or technical specialist (as many of us know Terry), but as a planner in the Commercial Fisheries Branch, of the Fisheries and Wildlife Division. In this role Terry helped establish and guide research focus across many species and fisheries in Victoria’s coastal and offshore waters. It was in this role, working at the interface between science and management as a member of the Fisheries Management Committee,  that he obtained a real understanding and appreciation of the important link between research and management and was forced to think more broadly about fisheries issues – and not just about sharks. In the late 1970s Terry was instrumental in the development of the commercial catch and effort recording and data management system in Victoria that underpins commercial fishery assessments in Victorian to this day.

In the early 1970’s Terry was fortunate to receive a significant long-term grant from FIRTA (the old FRDC) to do a major study on school and gummy shark – two species that were in severe decline at that time due to overfishing. This research program was the biggest fisheries research program in southern Australia at that time. It was a key period in Terry’s career where his work was able to influence major changes to management of oceanic fisheries resources throughout southern Australia. Supported by  grants from FRDC, AFMA and other external sources, Terry’s work on sharks continued throughout his career with many influential achievements including developing methods for estimating gillnet selectivity in the mid 1980s, publishing the first age-based shark fishery assessment model in 1992 that explicitly accounted for length-selective fishing mortality , age-dependent and density-dependent natural mortality and reproductive mode in sharks, and he detected and explained Rosa Lee’s Phenomenon in sharks. Ultimately Terry’s long history of work on gummy shark culminated in the completion of his PhD in 2010 “Population biology and dynamics of the gummy shark (Mustelus antarcticus) harvested off southern Australia”. Terry’s work on gummy shark has played a major role in the recovery of the species in southern Australia. It was a torrid time during the 1990s as management changes were implemented in the shark fishery based on Terry’s work , but Terry’s respect from industry was never challenged. The current sustainable and stable status of the gummy shark fishery in a big way relates to Terry’s work, a real success story of fisheries science and management in Australia.

Terry made an important contribution to the FAO manual ‘Management Techniques for Elasmobranch Fisheries’ and wrote the Conservation and Management of Sharks supplement of the FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries. He has advised and chaired international panels; undertook fishery assessments in various parts of the world including Australia, New Zealand, Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico; and helped several other countries develop their National Plans under FAO’s International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks. His expertise has been called on to inform many policy issues around shark management both in Australia and abroad. He has been a member of many societies including the ASFB for many years, and has received a number of awards including the Daniel Alpine Outstanding Achievement Award (Victorian Government), Australia Day Citizen Award, Fisheries Science Award (Mexico), and shared the Shark Conservation Prize (Sharks Down Under Conference).

Terry has over 140 externally-reviewed publications, over 250 internally-reviewed fisheries reports and papers, and has presented over 180 formal scientific presentations. He is co-author of the book ‘Sharks and Rays’ published in 1997 in English, Spanish, French, German and Japanese, with over 250,000 copies sold within 18 months of publication. His 1998 paper “Can shark resources be harvested sustainably? A question revisited with a review of shark fisheries” reached as high as the fourth most read paper of all published in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research.

Many of his publications have come out of his collaborative works, and importantly through his efforts as a student supervisor for 13 PhD , 1 masters and 11 Honours students. All this supervision and guidance while conducting his day job for Fisheries Victoria. His genuine passion and energy for the work has never waned and he is always generous with his time when it comes to helping students or other colleagues. Terry has been responsible for recruitment of many highly successful employees and students. His legacy as a student supervisor and mentor will continue on as many of his students and more junior colleagues (which is pretty much all of them) and employees have gone on to become  successful in the field of shark and other fishery research and management fields. Terry’s most recent major research initiative; the FRDC funded project “Rapid assessment of sustainability for ecological risk of shark and other chondrichthyan bycatch species taken in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery” is still delivering outputs as his last remaining PhD students finish up and generate publications. His support for student involvement in this project has spawned a new generation of shark fishery scientists for Australia. The project itself will continue to be a guide to risk assessment of shark fisheries and bycatch well into the future.

Terry ironically finished his career with Fisheries Victoria, back where he started, working on rock lobster. Despite being required to move away from his major career-long focus and passion, he applied the same principles of work ethic, research quality and rigour, collaboration, attention to detail and integrity to deliver the most advanced and robust stock assessment model for Victorian southern rock lobster.

While Terry has retired from Fisheries Victoria, his interest in fisheries science and sharks in particular will never end, and don’t be surprised if he pops his head up on a few more papers, advisory groups and at an ASFB conference or two in the future. We congratulate and thank Terry for his great contribution to fisheries science and sustainability in Australia.