Tim Hovey is a senior environmental scientist specialist and fisheries biologist with CDFW’s Inland Fisheries Program in the South Coast Region. Based in the northern part of Region 5, his main duties include the monitoring, management and assessment of threatened and endangered fish, amphibian and reptile species. He researches the life history of these species, coordinates field surveys, collects data on habitat, population health and possible stressors, and writes field reports and scientific articles on the data collected.
Tim earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in environmental biology and a Master’s of Science degree in marine biology, both from California State University, Northridge. Originally hired by CDFW as a marine biologist in 1999, Tim transferred to inland fisheries a few years later. He is currently part of a diverse fisheries team that manages every aspect of fisheries science in southern California.
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?
I didn’t really have an example to follow. I’ve always been interested in the outdoors and spent much of my childhood outside catching whatever I could. After high school, unsure of my direction, I took classes towards an engineering degree. After a few years of that, I realized I didn’t want to be an engineer. I stumbled on a job fair at the college I was attending and had a brief discussion with a representative from a university regarding marine science. I made one phone call to that university and the post doc that answered the phone convinced me to change majors and move south. After that, I never looked back.
What is a typical day like for you at work?
I start off by answering any emails or phone calls. During the survey season, I’ll start to schedule field outings to survey special status species. I’ll coordinate with other agencies and participate in planning meetings, write field reports and discuss and plan future projects all geared towards special status species recovery. I review and draft documents that deal with recovery aspects of the species I’m responsible for. In all honesty, no two days are ever the same and I really enjoy the variety of topics, challenges and duties.
What is your favorite species to interact with or study?
I love dealing with both marine and freshwater species and I don’t see that ever changing. I’ve always been a fish guy, with a constant interest in aquatic vertebrates and their amazing species diversity. Early on, I became very interested in why several different species of fish could occupy the same area. After that, I focused on reproductive behavior and habitat preference. I now deal mostly with native fish restoration and recovery, focusing on listed species like the unarmored threespine stickleback and the Santa Ana sucker. If it has anything to do with fish, I’m interested in it.
What is it about the work you do that you find most interesting?
I really enjoy the species-level information gathering and getting to spend a lot of time outside. To be honest, at times, I find it difficult to believe they pay me to do what I do. I am also amazed at the diverse topics and subjects I get to deal with. Since I am responsible for fish, amphibians and reptiles, I have to be familiar with many different types of survey protocols and species life histories. Since many of these species have special status, I need to be very familiar with required permitting if applicable and any regulatory issues that may arise from specific projects.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
My job takes a great deal of inter-agency coordination, especially with larger projects. While the agencies themselves are mostly on the same page, it can be a challenge dealing with the different agencies’ chains of command and overall differing protocols for project approval. However, in the end, I’m grateful for the diverse group of scientists from other agencies that I get to coordinate with.
What is the most rewarding project that you’ve worked on for CDFW?
I’ve worked on several projects that stand out.
I assisted in the removal of non-native pike from Lake Davis in 2007. Back in the early 2000s, northern pike were somehow introduced into the lake. They began to quickly impact the trophy trout fishery of the lake. Biologists became even more concerned that the non-native exotic predator would escape the lake and move downstream into the Sacramento River system, potentially impacting the steelhead and salmon population. I was part of a boat team that systematically treated the entire lake with rotenone, a naturally occurring toxin that kills fish. The repeated treatments worked and northern pike were eventually eliminated from the lake.
In 2005, I was the project lead for removing non-native trout from a section of Little Rock Creek here in Southern California. Upstream of the trout and isolated due to trout predation, endangered mountain yellow-legged frogs were in limited number and unable to migrate downstream. After removing the trout in a 900-meter section of creek below the frogs, an effort that took a decade, we documented the frogs recolonizing the now fishless area and increasing in number.
I’m also currently involved in the rescue and relocation of the endangered, unarmored threespine stickleback in Southern California. This is the most endangered fish in the state and losing quality habitat quickly. We are involved in a multi-agency effort to identify potential release sites in Southern California where we can introduce unarmored threespine stickleback to hopefully expand their range and population numbers.
If you had free reign and unlimited funding, what scientific project would you most like to do?
That’s a tough one. As of now, I would probably look at developing a program to enhance and restore unarmored threespine stickleback populations. Since they are considered the most endangered fish species in California, and number only in the hundreds, I think I would investigate captive rearing and breeding of this species to enhance the native populations.
Do you have any advice for people considering careers in science or natural resources?
If individuals are planning to get into a career in resource management, I would recommend that they pick a discipline. CDFW, as with most resource agencies, employ individuals with specialized training in a number of fields. Botany, mammalogy, ornithology, ichthyology and herpetology are all important specialized disciplines that are in high demand in most resource agencies. I would also recommend that interested individuals tag along with a scientist that is currently in the field of their particular interest. This will give you an idea of what is actually involved in the position you may be seeking. Finally, I would suggest they let their passion guide them. If they have a specific interest, follow it. I absolutely never gave up on finding a position where I get to study fisheries for a living. I passed up several other positions to land the one I have now. I have written a book about my experiences, called Out in the Field: Discovering a Career in Field Biology.
Few biologists are also authors. How did that come about?
I do a great deal of writing for the State and I started to notice quickly after I was hired in 1999, that I seriously enjoyed the task. Of course I would so much rather write about topics that are of a personal nature. My first book was finished in 2014 and took over a decade to complete. My second book, Raised Behind the Trigger: One father’s journey to preserve our outdoor heritage by teaching his daughters how to hunt, was published in 2016. Of all my writing projects I have taken on, this book about my daughters is my proudest writing accomplishment.
I also write monthly outdoor articles for several outdoor magazines and am currently the lead writer for the periodic California Sportsman. I write two articles a month for them detailing hunting, fishing and outdoor adventures. The column is called “Tales of a Fish Biologist.”
Any other interesting hobbies related to your career?
I operate an online website that provides dermestid beetles to hobbyists, museums and taxidermists all over the world. These flesh-eating bugs are useful to anyone interested in cleaning animal skulls for education, taxidermy or display. I know, weird huh? But I stumbled into it and thoroughly enjoy it.