Getting to Know Our Newest Fish: Emily Liang

My name is Emily Liang and I’m currently studying Aquaculture and Marine Resource Management as a Masters student at Wageningen University and Research (in Holland). I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California but am thankful to have my ethnic roots in Taiwan where some of the most delicious food in the world resides. While I’ve grown up only a 20 minute drive from the shores of the West Coast, my love and complete awe for the ocean didn’t begin until I was at UCLA for my undergraduate degree in Human Biology and Society. It was the spontaneous enrollment in an introductory course on Marine Biology, outside of my degree curriculum, that had me hooked on the wonders of the marine life. Currently, my main interests span across farming, film, science, and music; together, they lead me on the very winding road in which I am walking (“biking”, however, if we are talking about Holland). After graduating UCLA I wanted to tangibly learn what it meant to make sustainable food systems a reality, so I took "field work" very literally and dedicated one year to working and living on a 400 acre organic farm in San Francisco. However, as much as I loved being deep in the dirt, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t explore a life in the marine realm. Now, my aspiration is to be a creative advocate for sustainability especially focusing on ocean-human related issues; I want to communicate ideas and topics that are sound in science but shared in a creative way for people to enjoy and learn from. I look forward to learning more from FoF on the art of research and communication. I am confident I will be learning a lot from FoF on how to become a model ocean advocate, seeing as there are so many on this team!

Q: How did you find your way into marine issues? 

When I was attending UCLA I often enrolled myself in courses that (seemingly) had nothing to do with my degree in Human Biology and Society. One of these non-related courses was, An Introduction into Marine Biology, where I found myself assigned to visit 3 sushi restaurants in LA to contribute to a study on mislabeling of seafood. I attempted to inconspicuously tuck away samples of sashimi into small glass vials for Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) DNA testing.  Everything in this course was new to me from seafood sampling to learning about deep sea creatures. And each day learning something knew about the intricacies and mysteries of the marine world left me in awe, as if the earthly world instantly transformed into a fantastic mystery worth unraveling. From this awe grew my increasing curiosity to learn more...and then my deep attachment to the ocean along with my concerns on marine issues. 

...Why seafood?

Further being introduced to the issues of Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing left me me feeling devastated for our ocean and its creatures that I’d so suddenly learned to love. But one day after a depressing lecture on this subject, I had an epiphany that changed devastation into complete conviction. I had learned to care so deeply for the ocean within the past two months through this “introductory” much so that I wanted to take action. I was suddenly aware of this phenomena in which my interest in the ocean had gone from 0 to 100, and this gave me the conviction that anyone could experience this. I saw that people connect with the ocean through seafood and through learning about the sea. And as IUU poses such a negative impact, its turnaround is therefore a huge opportunity in protecting the ocean. Perhaps that’s why I’m quite attached to the subject of seafood.

Q: What were you doing before you joined Future of Fish?

Most recently, I’ve spent the last two years farming and obtaining my masters degree. Convinced that our human food systems lie at the crux of our environmental issues and solutions, I felt the need to personally dive into the sustainable food system for a deeper understanding.  Hands in the dirt, on the tractor, and taking on all four seasons, I farmed for a year on a 400 acre Organic farm in Northern California. In the (literal) field, I gained an insight on how the big challenges for achieving our “sustainable” ideals lie in the small human details; the personalities, relationships, proactivity, and foresight of everyone on the farm. I wanted one foot in the field to learn about these intimate yet crucial details and the other in academia, asking the critical questions that could lead to radical change at a large scale. So that’s what I’ve been doing this past year at Wageningen University and Research. On my way to completing my Masters degree in Aquaculture and Marine Resource Management I’ve run into this opportunity to work with Future of Fish. Now, I’m tagging along to learn from the pros in the fishy field of answering complex questions.

Q: Interest in seafood sustainability and traceability has grown in recent years. Why do you think that is?

I think we’re all having trust issues. As we participate in this global open relationship, information is made up, lost, and entangled in the mess of it all. I think interest in seafood sustainability and traceability has grown as we increasingly lose the ability to answer basic questions about things right in front of us, such as the food that we eat...
How do I know if the Salmon on my plate isn’t packed with antibiotics?! How do I know if my shrimp wasn’t produced at the expense of people who were enslaved? Answers to these questions now lie across the globe, and out of sight..but perhaps not out of mind. Most reasonable people want to be in an honest and transparent relationship. And as the gossip and chatter reveal the hidden costs in these products that we use everyday, people are starting to realize that there is some cheating going on. Individuals are starting make a case about their trust issues, “What is this relationship I have with my food and is it healthy (for me and for others)?“ 
And in response they are making their demands for sustainability and traceability.


Q: What most attracted you to working with Future of Fish?

FoF has a great team of researchers, and I could feel their passion and expertise exude from the stories they shared on the FoF blog. I was lured in by FoF’s engaging storytelling, good humor, and neat visual aspects. The more I explored the FoF blog and website, the more I admired how they were able to make their work transparent, intimate, and diverse. And finally by speaking with a couple of FoF team members I knew why their work was so well rounded. I was convinced that if I joined, I would be a part of a team that wasn’t just on a mission with the end in mind but truly open to the exploration and learning process at every point of the journey. In the end, it is this diverse and open mindset that has me so excited for an opportunity at FoF, to learn from some extraordinary people who are experts at practicing this journey-centric way of working and living!

Q: What are you most looking forward to doing in the next year?

I want to step outside the box of familiarity and challenge myself this coming year. I want to hone my communication skills through practice and application in my work (through visual art, storytelling, and language). I might have an opportunity to live and work in China this next year for my thesis, focusing on challenges within the aquaculture and fishery sustainability initiatives there with a Chinese NGO. Even beyond the very relevant activity regarding seafood in China, I have always been tempted to fully dive into the culture and land in which my grandparents came from. I see this as a chance to practice Mandarin (my second language...though I speak Ching-lish most fluently) and to be proactive and creative in communicating with people in the field and in sharing the products of my research. I’m a bit anxious, but mostly excited and highly anticipating this possible journey!