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The Science

Opah - The Science

An International Fish of Mystery

NOAA scientists are working collaboratively with Catalina Offshore Products to collect the information needed to understand the opah’s behavior, diet, age, growth, and reproduction. These data will allow NOAA to develop management strategies for this little known fish, as there is currently not enough information to conduct a stock assessment.

This work would not be possible without the collaborative support of fishermen and the seafood industry for regular access to San Diego caught opah for sampling.

Meet the Scientists

Matthew Craig, PhD

Matt Craig is a research scientist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. He earned is Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2005. After his post-doctoral work at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, Matt served as Associate Professor at the University of Puerto Rico, followed by a post as a Visiting Scientist at the J. Craig Venter Institute prior to his NMFS service. Matt’s research focuses on the systematics, conservation, and management of marine fishes.

Heidi Dewar, PhD

Heidi Dewar is a fisheries research biologist in the Life History Program at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. She completed her Ph.D. at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1993 where she worked on the physiology of tropical tunas. She has since worked in a range of disciplines and species and has worked closely with fishers. Her overarching scientific interest is in how the interplay between physiology and the environment determine the movements and behaviors of fish. She currently works with a range of highly migratory species collecting biological data to support management, specializing in species like sharks, tunas, opah, and billfish.

Mark Helvey

Mark Helvey had a 30-year career with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), covering fishery, natural resource damage, and habitat programs. He served as the last Assistant Regional Administrator for Sustainable Fisheries with the NMFS Southwest Region, representing the agency on highly migratory and coastal pelagic species. He participated as a member of U.S. delegations to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, the Western-Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, the Northern Committee, the International Scientific Committee, and the U.S.-Canada Albacore Treaty.

Prior to joining NMFS in 1985, Helvey was a research associate at Occidental College where he examined fish interactions with southern California offshore water intake structures. He holds both a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Arizona, respectively, and a Master’s in Business Administration California State University, Long Beach. His present interests revolve around seeking sustainable fishing opportunities for U.S. harvesters and producers.

John Hyde, PhD

Dr. John Hyde leads the Genetics, Physiology, and Aquaculture Program for the Fisheries Resources Division at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Over the course of his career he has led research on sharks, billfish, rockfish, sardine, opah, yellowtail and abalone and participated in research on marine mammals and marine turtles. Much of his work focuses on improving management decisions by identifying units to manage, understanding how species are affected by their environment, and developing tools to monitor the health and vital rates of wild and cultured species.

John received his PhD from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and has been actively involved with marine biology research in southern California for 20 years. In addition to his research experience, he has been an avid boater, scuba diver and fisherman his whole life.

Sarah Mesnick, PhD

Sarah Mesnick leads efforts at NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center to engage scientists, fishermen, buyers, chefs and consumers in finding creative – and culinary – solutions to conserving and sustaining our fish, fisheries and local fishing communities. As a behavioral ecologist by training, Sarah is also engaged with Heidi Dewar and Hawaii Pacific University in a project to better understand the unusual pattern of sexual dimorphism in opah.

Oriana Poindexter

Oriana Poindexter earned her master’s degree from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and has been based at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center since 2015. Her focus is the seafood supply chain on a local and global scale, and she works directly with fishermen, chefs, industry and seafood consumers to foster collaborative, creative solutions. She has been collecting biological samples from opah processed at Catalina Offshore Products to inform NOAA’s ongoing research on the opah species complex.

Owyn Snodgrass

Owyn Snodgrass was born and raised in San Diego in a diving, fishing, and surfing family. After graduating with a degree in Marine Biology from UCSC, he returned to San Diego to pursue a career in fisheries science. Since joining the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, he has worked on several species of fisheries interest including Pacific bluefin tuna, opah, and numerous shark species.

Nick Wegner, PhD

Nick grew up fishing in lakes and streams in Connecticut and Illinois, before attending the University of California, San Diego (where he graduated with a BS in Biology in 2004) and Scripps Institution of Oceanography (where he completed a PhD in Marine Biology). Nick has been working at the NOAA SWFSC since 2012, where his research focuses on understanding the physiology and ecology of commercially important fish species. He recently led a study examining the unique ability of opah to circulate warm blood throughout their body, and now is working with a team to tag opah with temperature sensors to examine how having a warm body effects their distribution, movements and behavior.

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Additional Resources and Publications