Maine native Cooper Van Vranken is a graduate student getting his master’s in aquatic science and technology at the Technical University of Denmark. Among other things, he’s studying Pandalus borealis, the same species of shrimp we have (or used to have) in Maine. We connected with him while he was home in Maine for a winter break he’d made deliberately long to dodge a Danish January. You can guess our first question.

WEATHER REPORT: How can a Danish winter be worse than a Maine winter? “It is warmer but darker. I can deal with the cold.” But the short days and long nights at that more Northern latitude? In the morning “you bike to university, and it is dark and then you get out and it is dark. And also, so rainy.” Van Vranken grew up mainly on Peaks Island and in Brunswick, and called us from the former to talk.

I (NOT) ROBOT: We assumed Van Vranken got into fisheries research after a childhood on the shores of Casco Bay, but he told us this career choice surprised even him. “It was a pretty big pivot.” He already had a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Vermont and moved out to Seattle, where he worked on manufacturing automation systems for the aerospace industry. Good money, good training in manufacturing, excellent mountain biking close to Seattle. But he hit a plateau of learning, and a brick wall of interest: “Ultimately, I don’t really care about airplanes, and I don’t care about robots.”

LIGHT BULB: He had an idea though, one that would make longline fishing better, and more sustainable, for both fishermen and resource managers. He started reading up on fisheries and wondering if this were an area where an engineer might be helpful. The door seemed wide open. “Initially, you start reading about fisheries and it is like, ‘Oh my God, this is such a disaster.’ ” It seemed, he said, like “a pretty easy place to make a large impact in terms of the technology being used.”

NOT SO FAST: “Actually, I was wrong about that.” Plenty of good technology was being used worldwide. His perspective was warped in part, he said, because he’d grown up in Maine, where fishing tends to be a day boat, small-scale operation compared to the rest of the world. “Almost artisanal fisheries, as they would be seen from the rest of the world.” Moreover, with more reading – and perspective under his belt – New England started to look less than rosy in terms of resource management. “It is actually one of the worst places in terms of fisheries management and the lack of response to it.” Consider how overfishing of cod in the Gulf of Maine lead to its drastic drop in numbers and slow recovery.

AN EDUCATION: He quit his job and moved to Canada to become “a mountain bike bum at Whistler” (like a ski bum but with less outerwear). He had, “the best time ever,” even though “the income was zero, because it was hard to get a work visa, but I was able to live off my savings.” (Thanks, robots!) He decided he needed to go to graduate school, but was determined to fish commercially before heading to fisheries school. The engineer in him was nudging him to get firsthand experience. “I have a large commitment to know what the user is going through. I think there are a lot of problems with engineers not going on the factory floor.” He came back to Maine and got a sternman gig lobstering out of Stonington. “It was pretty tough.” And lucrative. “I made better money than I did working as an engineer in Seattle.”

CRUISING WITH KARENINA: His stint salmon fishing in Prince William Sound was a lot less profitable. “We were only allowed to fish for 10 days. Barely any salmon returned to spawn. I think it was declared a national disaster.” Spending time at anchor or in port meant “we went for hikes and read a lot.” Anything good? Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book on statistics, “The Black Swan”; and “Anna Karenina.” “That is a good piece of literature,” he said about the latter. “I don’t think I would have been able to read it if I had not been stuck on a boat in Alaska with no cell service.” He got a sense of how that fishery works (or doesn’t) then hightailed it back to Maine and departed for year one of graduate school in Lyngby, Denmark, just north of Copenhagen. “Quite a transition to being in a trendy European city.”

CRUSTACEAN COUSINS: Why go to school in Scandinavia? He didn’t find many American schools with the kind of degree he wanted, beyond fisheries management and into the technology. “And the Scandinavians have been doing this for 2,000 years.” He’s in the second year of his master’s program, a proud commuter via an old steel Peugeot racing bike (it’s a bike-focused country) and is about to start his thesis work. Topic? Trawl gear as a data collection platform, focusing on shrimp trawling in the Skagerrak area north of Denmark. Which is where Maine shrimp come in. The shrimp the Danes catch are also Pandalus borealis, with a slight genetic difference within the species. And like shrimp in the Gulf of Maine, these cold-water shrimp are at the southern reach of their range, temperature- wise. But whereas the Maine shrimp stock has collapsed, these Pandalus borealis are doing well, while being fished sustainably.

DATA DUMP: He’ll be studying a set of data from 2013-2014 that looks at just one boat’s fishing data, with temperatures from every minute – and depth – of fishing. His advisors on the thesis project gathered the data by attaching sensors to the trawler’s nets, but hadn’t had a chance to look at it closely themselves. Van Vranken is hoping to chart the impact even subtle drops in temperature had on the number of shrimp in the water. If the findings are that shrimp seek even slightly colder water, then that could be useful to future fishermen. “Let’s put a sensor down there. Oh, it’s too warm? We’ve got to move further north then, because we’re not going to catch anything here.”

BIG PICTURE: Maybe that could help Maine shrimpers in the future, assuming the fishery ever reopens. But as a general rule, “What I would like to see in the future is fishermen more engaged in the data collection process for management.” (In Maine, shrimpers have participated to some extent already.) Van Vranken is also working on a side project, a fishermen-friendly electronic gizmo that would collect this same kind of data. “In theory, you just put it on our net, and it sends it wirelessly.” Will he come back to Maine to work in the fishing industry? Unclear. “Initially, my thought was I am going to go to Scandinavia and learn from these Vikings. Now, I really like it over there.”

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