ASFB 2016, Hobart


By Katie Ryan


The ASFB conference has come and gone for 2016 and Sean Tracey, Heidi Pethybridge and the rest of the Tassie organising committee should be really proud of pulling off such a memorable event. This year’s conference broke away from a couple of the conference norms and shook things up a little. It dared us to think about new communication styles. It compelled us to recognise and celebrate diversity. It began some integral conversations about some of the challenges and opportunities ahead. And of course it showcased some awesome research going on throughout the country and provided an opportunity for networks and collaborations to blossom.


ASFB Communications Managers Andrew Katsis reveals the society’s social media habits to Kate Hodges at the welcome drinks.


As the drinks flowed at the Wrest Point Hotel in Hobart to welcome delegates on Sunday night old friends were reunited, new friendships were formed and some pretty serious questions were raised. Like why are marine people using Twitter, while freshwater people are using Facebook? Is this correlated with marine fisho’s being better looking and trendier? Why are fisheries researchers hugging fisheries managers? Who is that other guy with the beard? And where is the waiter with the drinks?


The foyer of the conference venue featured an exhibition of incredible women in ichthyology, which included Alison King.


Even the most intellectually stimulating conversations on Sunday night didn’t prepare anyone for the Monday mornings session of rapid keynote presentation by six incredible women in ichthyology. Kicked off by former ASFB president Bronwyn Gillanders, this session was engaging and inspirational. Weaved within each presentation, on a variety of interesting research topics, were stories of challenges being overcome and opportunities being pursued to build amazing careers in ichthyology. On top of inspirational career journeys and awesome research, these women also had some kick arse communication styles. I’m pretty sure there weren’t many people who headed into that conference thinking about shark brains, but I’m quite certain that anyone who saw Kara Yopak’s amazingly animated and well-presented keynote left Hobart with shark brains still on their minds. This session was concluded with a panel discussion on gender equity in fisheries science, with a variety of important issues being raised by the audience and panel members. Personally, I felt like the Monday morning was an incredible moment in the history of the ASFB, and I think most of us were feeling pretty proud of our society for having this conversation and getting the ball rolling on many more conversations to come. A pat on the back goes to Chris Fulton and each of the panel members for bringing the issue of gender equity to the forefront. And just so you know, the marine folks thought it was pretty good too, with #womeninstem, being tweeted from the conference more than #fish or #shark!



Bronwyn Gillanders giving the first presentation of the conference.


Chris Fulton presents an analysis of the gender and career stage of society members during the gender equity panel discussion.

Tuesday afternoon saw another break with conference norms as ten brave students took to the stage for Student Rapid Fire Oral Presentations. This was the second part of the ASFB’s new Student Communication in Science Competition. The first component had involved students getting their creativity on to produce a 3 minute video highlighting their research prior to the conference (these can be still viewed at At the conference they each had three minutes to tell us about their research (no slides!!). It was exciting to see the students give their short spiel on the main stage, and I think everyone in the audience (were quietly thankful that it wasn’t them up there!) would agree that the students did a great job. Hats off to Steve Beatty, Jordan Matley and Stacy Bierwagen for changing things up and making us all think about how we might improve our capacity to communicate.


Ten brave students took to the stage for the Student Rapid Fire competition



As a reward to those students for being so brave (and all the other delegates) the student mixer happened Tuesday night. The challenge of finding those with a matching species sticker and sharing some embarrassing field stories was a great way to mix it up and meet some new folks. The marine fisho’s seemed to win on the embarrassing stories with revelations of wee and poo related events (not sure they are that trendy after all), but I’m pretty sure some of the freshwater folks must have been being unusually shy on their embarrassing stories (maybe we should be better at #sharing).


The student mixer was a great opportunity to meet some new people.


Melissa Marquez reveals her embarrassing field story at the student mixer. This lady tweeted over 800 times during the conference!



Ben Broadhurst, Steve Beatty and Rhian Clear at the student mixer.



PhD student Alan Couch enjoyed meeting David Bellwood after the student mixer.


In terms of the concurrent sessions that occurred Monday to Wednesday, there was a huge diversity of content presented, from pure research, to social science, to management implications and beyond. It was so good to see some work emerging on incorporating cultural values in fisheries research and management. In fact there were a number of great talks on the social science side of things and the need for multidisciplinary approaches, and to be honest I’m excited by what lies ahead in this space. As with most of my other ASFB experiences, I enjoyed the reminder on the spatial variability across the country. Along with some great talks on the ever advancing knowledge of fish and flows in the southern Murray-Darling Basin, it was interesting to hear Kate Hodges talk about fish movement in disconnected water holes in QLD and their responses to reconnecting flows; and  Alison King talk about the importance of dry-season low flows for fish spawning and recruitment in the tropics; and Steve Beatty talk about the value of dug out fire water points in ephemeral systems as refuges for native fish in south-western Australia. And of course there were many more examples, and probably some great ones that I missed, with the only downside of the conference being some unfortunate overlap in the timing of freshwater talks.


Nathan Clough had a good experience at his first ASFB conference.



Dave Hohnberg giving his talk in the very last session of the conference.


Of course the conference dinner on Wednesday night was great fun. For those of us who didn’t get any extra time in Hobart, the ferry ride along the Derwent to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) was a great chance to view the city whilst enjoying a beverage and some good conversation. At MONA the food was delicious, as was the wine, and the service was excellent. There was a definite feel of celebration in the air, with the energy in the room peaking as the awards were handed out. It was really wonderful to see Bronwyn Gillanders deservingly receive the K Radway Allen Award. And it was pretty special to be sitting on a table with former and current colleagues of Jason Theim when he was announced as winner of the Early Career Excellence award. This was the first ASFB I have been to that Jase wasn’t at, and he was amongst a number of faces missing this year. So amidst the excitement and glory was a little reminder that funding, approvals, time and life (babies for a couple of ASFB ladies this year!!) mean it’s not always easy to get to conferences. But when you do it’s so worth it. So I think it’s the duty of those of us who did get to Hobart to spread the word about how valuable it was. Let’s tell colleagues, bosses, supervisors, partners and anyone who will listen about the networking, the capacity building, the sharing of ideas, the learnings, the motivation, the inspiration, or whatever it was for you. Because I have a feeling that they will shake things up even more in Albany next year, and no one will want to miss it. #pleaseletmegotoASFB2017.


Our transport to dinner.



Stuart Little, Anthony Townsend and John Koehn catch up at the dinner.



The Canberra crew know how to have a good time.






Editor’s note: How good was this write up by Katie. If you can top it, I’d be bloody surprised but feel free to contact me to get next year’s write up opportunity. Thank you Dr Ryan. Top-shelf, indeed.