What is fish conservation?

The fish conservation major addresses both the scientific and human elements of aquatic ecosystem management. Areas of focus include, but are not limited to, shellfish, endangered species, aquaculture systems, and sport fish. You’ll graduate prepared to take an active role in finding new and better ways to conserve, use, and sustain the world’s vital aquatic resources. This is a very research-intensive major and provides excellent preparation for graduate school.

Learn more about this major and the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation.

What will I learn in this major?

Students majoring in fish conservation take courses in the following core areas: natural resources and environment, population dynamics, human dimensions of fisheries and wildlife, evolutionary biology, legal foundations, public speaking and writing, chemistry, and statistics. Additional major coursework is also required in oceanography, ichthyology, fish ecology, fish management, ecology, and geographic information systems (GIS) technology.   

Students have two options for specialization: freshwater fisheries conservation and marine fisheries conservation.

Why study fish conservation at Virginia Tech?

  • Our Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation is one of the premier programs in the U.S. that focuses on fish and wildlife research, conservation, and management.
  • All students are required to enroll in a first-year experience course — Natural Resources and Environment — which introduces them to skills critical for being successful in the college and at Virginia Tech, as well as to career options for this field of study.
  • Students have the option of pursuing an option in freshwater fisheries conservation, which requires the completion of additional courses in fisheries techniques, biology, and aquatic biology.
  • Students who pursue the marine fisheries conservation option will take courses in fisheries techniques and marine ecology, as well as approved courses at a collaborating institution. In the past, students have completed their coursework at institutions such as the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Coastal Carolina University, Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory (affiliated with the University of South Alabama), University of Washington, and Stony Brook University.
  • Hands-on learning is a hallmark of the program. All students complete an experiential learning requirement by participating in one of the following: internship, research, overseas study, or independent learning.
  • In addition to subject area knowledge, there is also an emphasis on critical “soft skills” that students need in order to be successful. These skills are acquired in part through required courses on speaking and writing about agriculture and life sciences that are part of the curriculum.
  • Faculty members are experts in and conduct research on areas ranging from fish ecology to mussel populations to marine fisheries management.
  • Student research opportunities are available locally and regionally in Virginia and neighboring states.
  • Partnerships with federal agencies, as well as Virginia Tech’s Conservation Management Institute, Global Change Center, Fralin Life Science Institute, and Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Center, afford students and faculty opportunities to conduct research, join project teams, and solve resource management problems.
  • Student clubs and organizations like the American Fisheries Society are a great way for students to connect and get involved on campus and in the community. The group plans and holds the Annual Mudbass Tournament for local children and families. Virginia Tech also has a bass fishing team that competes at the intercollegiate level.

What can I do with a degree in fish conservation?

Graduates in fish conservation may enter the job market or pursue a graduate degree in the field. Career possibilities are listed below, and potential employers include the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state departments of natural resources, National Park Service, state parks, environmental consulting firms, and conservation nonprofit agencies.

  • Animal caretaker — Feeds and raises fish in aquaculture facilities, hatcheries, or other settings.
  • Aquaculturist — Grows fish for food markets and for fisheries agencies, producing fish to enhance recreational fisheries and threatened populations.
  • Biological science technician/fishery technician/wetland technician — Carries out the practical tasks and procedures essential to completing plans and projects: manages habitats, conducts surveys or experiments, and computes and records data.
  • Environmental consultant — Conducts viability and impact assessments to determine the effects that proposed land and water developments might have on plant and animal life.
  • Environmental educator/conservation education specialist — Educates learners of all ages about natural resources and the environment.
  • Fish culturist/hatchery manager — Manages fish hatcheries, propagates various species of hatchery fish, and implements fish disease control programs.
  • Fishery biologist — Studies the life history, habitats, population dynamics, nutrition, and diseases of fish, and plans and carries out fish conservation and management programs.
  • Fishing and hunting guide — Leads fishing and hunting trips or expeditions.
  • Game warden — Protects wildlife and the environment through law enforcement and conservation activities.
  • Museum collections manager — Cares for and maintains museum fish specimens.
  • Public affairs specialist — Works with the news media and the public to provide information about natural resources.
  • Research fisheries biologist — Gathers data on the effects of natural and human environmental changes on fish, and restores and enhances fish habitats. 
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