Interior Department Profiles NMU Grad Student

Symal on the Sante River
Symal on the Sante RiverSymbal
SymbalSea Lamprey (Interior Dept. photo)
Sea Lamprey (Interior Dept. photo)

An NMU biology graduate student is profiled in an online feature titled “15 Amazing Jobs at the Interior Department.” Fish biologist is one of the occupations on the list and the employee selected to represent that position is Matt Symbal of Marquette, who works with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s sea lamprey control program. He previously earned a bachelor’s degree from Northern and now balances grad studies with his full-time job at the Marquette Biological Station.

Sea lampreys are parasitic fish from the Atlantic Ocean. Symbal said it is invasive to the Great Lakes and feeds on the bodily fluids of fish. He collects and analyzes data relevant to larval sea lamprey populations and recommends streams  for treatment by the sea lamprey program’s control unit.

“We haven’t found that magical combination of management tools to eradicate them,” he said during a phone interview. “We trap adults, use barriers and apply a lampricide—a pesticide specific to the invasive fish. The latter is the most effective tool in the box.

“Sea lampreys are still present, but their populations are controlled to the point that native fish species are coming back through natural reproduction rather than stocking. It’s rewarding to know I’m doing work that benefits the region’s economic and recreation stability.”

Symbal said a few key courses at NMU, combined with volunteer experience, tilted his career interest toward fisheries. He has been working 16 years, but a missing element convinced him to pursue his master’s degree.

“A lot of my career so far has been related to the management of fisheries. I never really got the research component under my belt, but I’ve always been interested in it. My colleagues and supervisors have been very supportive.”

Symbal’s thesis will explore the metabolic effects caused by exposure to sub-lethal concentrations of lampricide on lake sturgeon, a threatened species.

The Interior Department’s feature on 15 amazing jobs states that its mission ranges from protecting America’s wildlife and natural and cultural treasures to providing mapping, geological, hydrological and biological science for the nation and powering its energy future. 

“That means we need a diverse team of hardworking, talented employees performing many different types of work in support of that mission,” it stated.

Prepared By
Kristi Evans
News Director