What’s it like to work in European fisheries policy?

Amelie Knapp is a Policy Officer at European Commission Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Here she tells us what it’s like to work on fisheries policy within the European Union, and she shares her career secrets.

What work do you do?

I work to ensure that EU Member States collect scientific data on their fisheries. These data include biological data on fish stocks, alongside social and economic data such as profitability. The data allow us to make assessments of the state of the marine resources, and to guide decisions about where best to invest EU subsidies for the fisheries sector.

What’s your job like on a day to day basis?

It’s an office-based job, so most of my time I’m either in front of a computer or in meetings with colleagues and with a diverse range of other stakeholders. Internally, this means meeting with other people also working on issues surrounding fisheries, or with other bits of the European Commission dealing with environmental issues or research.

Externally, I’m in touch a lot with fisheries experts within the EU Member States. Countries have legal obligations regarding the data collection on of their fish stocks and the fisheries sector, and I work to help them co-ordinate their methodologies, undertake joint scientific surveys, and to do things in a more harmonised way.

Finally, I also manage contracts with consultants and research agencies to better understand specific aspects of fisheries data collection within Europe.

What is the best bit of your job?

As a biologist working with fisheries experts, I find its technical nature very interesting.

Also the people around me are very international, and speak lots of languages and have different backgrounds. There are lots of smart people around, and it’s a very stimulating work environment.

In terms of a career it’s also great. I’ve effectively got a life-long career where they encourage officials like myself to move around quite regularly, to broaden our skills and experiences. This is often within Brussels, but can also be overseas as part of EU delegations.

The European Commission is a very large and diverse employer and the opportunities for a varied career are significant.

What do you find more challenging in your job?

There are lots of administrative procedures, but I’ve got used to them. For example, before a letter is posted it needs to be checked and approved by a number of people which can take 3 or 4 days.

Like many conservation-related jobs, there are a lot of emails, meetings and deadlines to keep on top of which can be a real challenge. Multi-tasking is an important skill in this organization.

Looking back, what have been the key points in your career to date?

After my undergraduate degree at Cambridge I did a Masters course at York University in Ecology and Environmental Management. During this I did a work placement at TRAFFIC, which is part of WWF and IUCN, working on wildlife trade and endangered species. This really set my course for where I went next.

After university I got a job as Research Assistant in the Species Programme for UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have got this job if it wasn’t for my placement with TRAFFIC.

After a year with UNEP-WCMC I volunteered as a Science Officer for Coral Cay Conservation. This summer placement involved being in charge of running rapid biodiversity assessments for mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and butterflies, as well as teaching and training volunteers in Setiu Wetlands, Terengganu, Malaysia.

When I returned from Malaysia, a job came up with TRAFFIC as a Senior Research Officer which I got and I work there for five years, before moving to work as Scientific Adviser for the Belgian Federal Ministry of Environment.

How did you get your placement with TRAFFIC?

I had an interest in wildlife trade and did lots of reading online to identify the few organisations working on the issue, one of which was WWF in Belgium which is where I’m from. I contacted them directly and things all led from there.

Why do you work in conservation?

There are many issues which are worthy of focus, but the environment and conservation is one which speaks to me personally because I enjoy nature and being outside.

Today I find it rewarding to realise that the work I do has an impact at the European level, and I’m doing my bit to make a difference.

What advice would you offer someone who might want to follow in your footsteps?

It helps to have a very strong background, with good qualifications and experiences from a good university. On top of this, you need a clear picture of what it is you want to do.

If you have a passion for conservation, then this helps to drive you forwards and find internships and placements which can set you off on your career. You’d be very lucky to get a great job without some internship or voluntary work at the beginning. Even if you’re not being paid, it’s an extremely important investment to make in your career if you’re looking to work in conservation.

Keeping in touch with people you meet, such colleagues and people working in your chosen field also helps, as you’ll hear about opportunities that perhaps aren’t advertised, and also you’ll have a better chance of being successful if you do apply.

What’s your favourite song?

Any song by Jef Neve, a Belgian jazz pianist.

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