Ney honored for fish research

May 24, 2000

John J. Ney, fisheries science professor at Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources, received the 1999 Outstanding Achievement Award from the Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society (SDAFS). SDAFS has 2,500 members in 23 states and Puerto Rico.

The award is given for major contributions to the field of fisheries. Ney was cited for his long-term, pioneering research on reservoir fish communities. Since 1976, he and his students have studied energy flow and trophic relationships of reservoir fish assemblages because food supply is usually the prime factor limiting fisheries productivity in these sprawling, manmade waterbodies.

Early research evaluated the pros and cons of various reservoir forage species, particularly alewife. Ney and his colleagues were the first to discover that alewife could feed intensely on larval fishes, recommending that alewives should not be stocked into waters with reproducing populations of pelagic sportfish. This warning was later substantiated when alewives spread into walleye waters. Follow-up research has described the compatibility of alewife with gizzard shad and striped bass with black basses.

Over the years Ney has placed many graduate and undergraduate students from his classes in good jobs. His students have made a major impact throughout the U.S. They include fisheries biologists employed by the states of Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

About half the fisheries biologists in the state of Virginia learned under Ney's tutelage, including the chief and assistant chief of fisheries with Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Another of his former students was Dennis Treacy, now director of Virginia's Department of Environment Quality. His many graduate students are now entering the highest levels of leadership with respective employers.

For the past 20 years, he has been Book Review Editor for the American Fisheries Society. He is the author of numerous journal articles, book chapters, reports, and synthesis papers.

Ney has had a major impact in recognizing and promoting the finding that "clean" lakes are not synonymous with good fishing and that nutrient reduction programs or "oligotrophication" (where deep, clear lakes have low nutrient supplies, with a high dissolved oxygen level and containing little or no organic matter) may have serious fishery impacts.

The fisheries professor and his students have given much attention to the question of why sportfish production varies among reservoirs. Examining lakes and reservoirs worldwide, they determined that nutrient load strongly predicted fish standing stock. However, sportfish growth and abundance can sometimes vary markedly between lakes of similar fertility as the result of predators inability to fully utilize the total prey supply. Ney examined the efficiency with which predators consume their prey. He observed that prey availability has three components: morphology, distribution, and behavior, each of which can be quantified. On the other side, predator food demand could be determined by bioenergetics modeling coupled with population statistics.

Ney formulated these concepts and procedures in a widely cited (1990) monograph, Trophic Economics in Fisheries: Assessment of Supply-Demand Relationships Between Predators and Prey. With his current generation of students, he is putting these concepts into practice to develop a protocol for optimizing stocking densities for reservoir sportfishes.

As a dedicated angler, he looks forward to the time when he can devote his full energies to personally reaping the benefits of enlightened fisheries management. Ney's colleagues know him as "one master with the filet knife!"
Faculty Member: John Ney

Virginia Tech

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