Meerbeek named Fisheries Biologist of the Year

Thursday, July 14, 2016
Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery fisheries research biologist Jonathan Meerbeek was named Fisheries Biologist of the Year by the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The organization is made up of 13 state and three provincial Midwest fish and wildlife agencies. (Photo by Will Musgrove)

SPIRIT LAKE -- Fisheries research biologist Jonathan Meerbeek has a wide range of duties at the Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery. On an average day, he might be at his desk filing paperwork, collecting samples in the field or analyzing data.

This diligence caught the attention of the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The organization named Meerbeek Fisheries Biologist of the Year earlier this month in St. Louis.

He was recognized due to his quality walleye and muskellunge research and other efforts to improve fishing in Iowa's natural lakes.

"There are a lot of good biologists that are doing good things around the Midwest and are also very deserving of this award," Meerbeek said. "This is a big honor for me to be chosen especially in the early to middle part of my career."

Meerbeek was nominated for the award by George Scholten, his Iowa Department of Natural Resources fisheries research section supervisor. He said he believes Scholten submitted his name due to him filling in as hatchery manager last year.

"I was trying to manage the hatchery and do my other job," Meerbeek said. "We happened to do it very well, and we ended up having the best production year at his facility. It was a team effort. There are a lot of people here with a lot of experience raising muskies, walleye and northern pike. I lean on them a lot to accomplish those goals. They are as much worthy of the award as I am."

Meerbeek grew up in Rock Valley. He developed a love for fishing, hunting and the outdoors while in high school.

"I did some fishing as a young kid, but it wasn't until a biology teacher of mine took me out bass fishing on his boat my junior year that I really developed my passion for fishing and the outdoors," Meerbeek said. "I was hooked since then. He showed me how to bass fish and how fun it could be. From then on, any free time I get I try to get outdoors."

Meerbeek obtained his associate degree in environmental studies from Iowa Lakes Community College after high school. He then transferred to South Dakota State, where he earned his bachelor's in wildlife and fisheries in 2002. Meerbeek got his master's in biology at Tennessee Tech in 2004.

He landed his first biologist job in Duluth, Minnesota. He then worked as a fisheries biologist in Lake City, Minnesota.

Meerbeek began working as a fisheries biologist at the Spirit Lake Fish hatchery in 2010. He replaced outgoing biologist Joe Larscheid, who is now the Iowa Department of Natural Resources fisheries bureau chief.

"I wanted to get closer to home," Meerbeek said. "The Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery was basically the opportunity I had to do that."

Meerbeek said his responsibilities depend on the time of year. He is currently working on a project that analyzes muskie survival rates.

"We are planting them with radio tags and following their movements, seeing if they are surviving," Meerbeek said. "We have been having some issues with survival with those fish. We assumed they had high survival due to their size, but our research is showing they are not surviving that well."

Research is also a large part of Meerbeek's responsibilities. He said he is always trying to find time to get works published. He currently has published four manuscripts in the American Fisheries Society's North American Journal of Fisheries Management.

"Being in research, you have an obligation to share information with others across the nation," Meerbeek said. "That is where publishing your work and presenting at meetings does its part. I try to do as much of that as I can, but a lot of times, time is limited."

Meerbeek also partners with the Lakeside Lab and other organizations in the Iowa Great Lakes area.

"Partnerships are crucial for things to get done," Meerbeek said. "It gets tough to do things with finances, so you have to form these partnerships and alliances with other groups and people."

Meerbeek encourages everyone to get involved in his or her local environment.

"It can be as simple as getting involved in activities at Lakeside Lab," Meerbeek said. "There are a lot of different environmental groups in the area that you can volunteer your time."

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