Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chris Fischer: Voice of the Oceans

By John Fisher

Chris Fischer wants to preserve the oceans so that future generations can eat "fish sandwiches."

Chris Fischer and his crew

Speaking to Skills USA in Kansas City, he told the audience of 6000 high school and college students that loss of the great white shark would upset the eco-balance in the ocean, creating a glut of squid that would destroy other fish resources.

"What's the biggest room in the world?" asked Fischer, who heads a research group called Oceach. "It's room for improvement," he answered back.

Fischer learned to be an entrepreneur as a boy at his family's dinner table in Kentucky. He also went into the family enterprise, but at 29 he came to work and found out his brother's had sold the business. "I was out of a job, so I went fishing."

Fischer had fished for much of his life. In California, he learned that the fish in the oceans are endangered.

"I was spending a lot of time on the water with my wife, and we would come back – we were living in Southern California, and we would tell people these stories about what we saw on the ocean; both good and bad. And people would be like: ‘So what, let’s go party and have dinner.’  And my wife and I were just shocked that even the people who lived on the beaches didn’t really care and weren’t very connected with what was going on in the ocean."

Sharks, he found out, are being killed off at 100 million a year so people could eat "shark fin soup." He decided he would research sharks and to do that he bought a ship.

When the ship needed an engine, he went to Caterpillar andgot an engine. He filmed his work and sold it first to National Geographic and then to the History Channel. When his film contract ran out, Caterpillar continued to fund his work.

His team has tagged sharks around the world. In 90 days off south Africa they tagged 40 white sharks. When the sharks surface, a gps device signals their location. Students can track the sharks in real time at

Fischer's goal is to change government policy about the oceans.  To do this, he is supporting graduate research in every location he and his crew work.

"So we’re leaving a wake of PhDs around the world that are all marine biologists that become the leaders in looking after the ocean when we’re gone," Fischer said.. "So when I support research in Guadalupe, I leave a Mexican PhD behind.  Costa Rica – Costa Rican PhDs.  Galapagos – Galapagos PhDs.  South Africa – there’s over 30 researchers involved in this project.  There will be over a dozen PhDs that people will get using the data set that we have funded and we have enabled them to get."

Fischer told students at Skills USA something he learned from his father. "The opportunity bus may come by only once in your life." Further, he said "You have to put aside fear," and "not be overwhelmed by the size of your task."

Read an interview of Chris Fischer.