From shore to fisheries research

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Alasdair-Duncan-McIntyre-cutout-wA HELENSBURGH man who spent part of his childhood exploring rocky pools on the seafront for marine life rose to become one of the UK’s foremost experts in the field.

Alasdair Duncan McIntyre, CBE, BSc, DSc, FRSE, FIBiol, FRSA, was born in the burgh in 1926 and died in Aberdeen in 2010.

The family home of the man who was to become Professor of Fisheries and Oceanography at Aberdeen University and director of the Aberdeen Marine Laboratory was near Hermitage School in East Argyle Street, which he attended.

He and his brother Gordon could often be seen on the shore looking for shrimp and limpets, and they both went on to become biologists. Alasdair graduated from Glasgow University in 1949 with first class honours in zoology. His dissection of the cranial nerves of the dogfish was considered so perfect that a picture of it was permanently displayed on the wall.

After completing his graduate studies he moved north to join the staff of the Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen in 1951, and he remained there for 40 years.

During his early years at the Marine Laboratory, Alasdair’s research and scientific activities developed across a broad range of interests.

Initially, he studied the halibut stocks in the North Atlantic, working from research vessels and also from the commercial long-liners that fished off Greenland.

His abiding interest in the investigation of the fauna on the seabed led to his efforts to improve the efficiency of equipment for taking samples from the bottom of the sea.

He was one of the first to recognise the importance of the meiofauna that play a critical role in transforming the debris reaching the sea floor into food for the larger macrofauna, and in 1971 produced what is now a standard textbook on the subject.

In 1983 he was appointed Director of Fisheries Research for Scotland, and three years later coordinator of Fisheries Research and Development for the UK.

He was awarded a DSc by Glasgow University in 1970 for his thesis on Marine Benthic Ecology and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh the following year, becoming a Fellow of the Institute of Biology in 1980.

He retired from the Marine Lab aged 60 in 1987 but continued to work in the field after he became Emeritus Professor of Fisheries and Oceanography at Aberdeen University, a position he retained until his death.

From the early 1960s Alasdair, working with a diverse group of researchers, began a decade-long study of a sandy beach at Loch Ewe. The aim was to demonstrate how the food web, from plankton through benthos to fish, determined the annual production of juvenile plaice and its variability from year to year.

This was important to the growing interest in fish farming, as well as of ecological interest, and grew into a much larger investigation of marine ecosystems involving experts from around the world.

He was involved in another demanding field exercise which studied the sandy shores of the entire Scottish coastline — including the Hebrides.

Both projects were arduous and physically demanding, but he entered into them with tremendous enthusiasm and brought great scholarship to the resultant reports.

His time as director of fisheries research was a challenging period, not only with the decline in fisheries but also with the expanding oil industry causing many issues relating to the marine environment.

He became a leading authority on the international aspects of these questions, and served as chairman of the United Nations Joint Group of Experts on Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution, and as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Marine Pollution of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.

He was awarded the CBE for services to fisheries and marine conservation in June 1994. He was also awarded two honorary doctorates, from Stirling University in 1997 and Napier University in 2005.

The advancement of marine science in Scotland was important to him and he served as vice-president and then president of the Scottish Association for Marine Science. He also played a key role in the marine interests of Scottish Natural Heritage.

After he retired he was able to speak openly about the many problems facing the marine environment in Scotland, and he was often called on in public inquiries and in legal challenges in marine cases.

He was Editor-in-Chief of the journal Fisheries Research from 1987 until his death.

Other posts included visiting professor at King Abdulaziz University in Jedda, member of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and its science research and development board, consultant to the government of Ecuador and the World Bank, and member of a UN panel assessing the dumping of radioactive waste at sea.

He was a consultant on the disposal of the Brent Spar oil installation and a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s independent committee examining the crisis in the Scottish fishing industry in 2003.

He lectured internationally, including in China and South America, and was chairman of the Atlantic Frontier Environmental Forum and of the Falkland Islands Exploration and Production Environmental Forum.

He represented the UK on the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, was chairman of the Marine Forum for Environmental Issues, president of the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, and chairman of the Buckland Foundation trustees.

In education, he was an external examiner for MSc courses at Napier, Heriot-Watt, Hull, Southampton and Warwick Universities, and the University of Wales.

Over his last decade, Alasdair was heavily involved in the 10-year global initiative ‘Census of Marine Life’, helping to set up the European component of this programme and establish it in Scotland.

During the its last year, he edited the volume ‘Life in the world’s oceans: diversity, abundance and distribution’, which brought together in 17 chapters the work of 145 contributing authors and over 2,000 scientists from 89 nations.

It was at Aberdeen Marine Laboratory that he met his wife, Catherine Helen Davidson, when she started work as an administrator in April 1964. He was 39 and she was 24.

They married in 1967 at Aberdeen’s Craigiebuckler Church and it proved an enduring partnership with Catherine taking on the role as his secretary when he was appointed to Aberdeen University.

Alasdair died at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary on April 15 2010, after a short illness, at the age of 83. He was survived by his wife Catherine, brother Gordon, daughter Alison and grandson Sebastian.

Professor Anastasios Eleftheriou, Emeritus Professor at the University of Crete and a former student and colleague who also worked at Loch Ewe, paid a fulsome tribute to him.

Alasdair-Duncan-McIntyre-2He said: "Alasdair stands out as an exceptional individual, part of a generation of British scientists whose expertise and interests ranged far, wide and deep.

"He was that rare and often undervalued individual: a real all-rounder, scientist, researcher, administrator, academic, writer, wine connoisseur, gourmet and passionate reader."

An obituary by John Steele and Margaret Eleftheriou for the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of which he was a Fellow, also recognised his wider qualities, including being a lover of classical music, a keen walker, and a season ticket holder at Aberdeen FC for many years.

They wrote: “In addition to all his scientific achievements, Alasdair will be remembered as a very cultured man — always extremely well dressed and well mannered, fond of good food, a connoisseur of wine, a keen member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and a great conversationalist with time for everybody.

“He was in fact — that rarity of modern times — a true gentleman. For his friends and acquaintances, it was a privilege to have known him and he will be sorely missed.

"For all those who had the good fortune to enjoy his friendship and his wisdom, we feel that they have been enriched by Alasdair's life."

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