About me – The Fish Doctor

Dr. Vonherbing Ph.D. – The Fish Doctor

Born where the mountains meet the sea in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, Canada,  I seek connections between sky and ocean; between spirit and science. I often find the intersection of these two disparate themes played out in the amazing life of fishes (which is my expertise).

My more creative side (I am a published poet and photographer (Aslan’s Art ABD)) is often at odds with my professional life as an Associate Professor at the University of North Texas, Denton, TX.  But I learned that the more creative side of all of us enriches the more linear, logical side, and after fifty years of living well – I found congruence.

Early in my life (age 15) I dived with SCUBA on coral reefs off Mombasa, Kenya in the Indian Ocean. Sixty minutes underwater transported me to a realm only found in the best of dreams.  I committed my life to conserving and holding sacred, the beauty and harmony of what I witnessed on that reef. But over the next thirty years plus, I was to witness and experience moments of anything but beauty and peace.

After finishing my undergraduate degree at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, in 1983, I spent ten years as a graduate student (MSc) in Oceanography (McGill University), and commercial diver in the Caribbean (Barbados and Bahamas). There I saw the encroachment of pollution and the beginning of ocean acidification due to climate change. I grew concerned about the health of our planet and its oceans.

In 1992, during my Ph.D. in Physiology at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, I witnessed the crash of the greatest fishery on Earth, the Atlantic cod fishery.  It wasn’t just the fact that cod disappeared after 500 years of fishing, it was its devastation on the fishermen and their families that tore at my heart. How could we have managed such a great resource so poorly? I spent the better part of half a century searching for answers and offering solutions.

I came to the US in 1994 as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and continued ocean research during two additional postdoctoral positions (one in the Caribbean (Bellairs Research Institute) and the other in Florida (Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution), culminating in a tenure-track faculty position at University of Maine, School of Marine Sciences.

After tenure at U. Maine, I spent 3 years in Washington DC, at the National Science Foundation (2003-2006), as a Program Director in the Biological Sciences Directorate, where I helped other scientists realize their dreams in academia. In 2007, I accepted a tenured Associate Professor position in the Biological Sciences Department at the University of North Texas, where I am Director of the Marine Conservation and Aquatic Physiology Laboratory (MCAPL), and teach courses in: Marine Biology & Ocean Sustainability, and Developmental Biology.

Over the past nine years, my concern for the deteriorating health of global oceans, and lack of sustainably farmed fish to feed the world’s increasing demand, led me to use probiotics (“good” bacteria) in my research, and test it for the commercial fish farm.  Fostering a healthy gut microbiome is not only important to fish, but also to human brain/gut health, where it improves cognitive function, focus and fights disease.

In conjunction with my UNT graduate students, I hold two patents, one of which is a treatment for the human disease PKU, using a genetically modified probiotic. I have come to believe after thirty years of research in the oceans that our health as human beings is intimately tied to and reflects that of our oceans, our air and our land.  It’s time to act to preserve what is left and build a world for the future. As the Dali Lama said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”