There is a 17.5-inch Largemouth Bass with a voracious appetite methodically swishing its tail back and forth as it propels through the lily pad stalks beneath Lake Fred’s surface. Avid fisherman Owen Mulvey-McFerron, who hails from landlocked Fairfax, Va., knows this fish exists because it was the first-place trophy catch at the Stockton Fishing Club’s Bass Tournament he hosted last spring as the club president.
Mulvey-McFerron, a Marine Science and Environmental Studies double major, is starting his third year at Stockton, but with his advanced placement credits from high school, he’s already a senior.
About a dozen students cast their lines into Lake Fred during the competition he organized last April. “Students took home $300 in giveaways and prizes all courtesy of donations from Team America Tackle, Absecon Bay Sportsman’s Center, Tackle Direct and Bass Pro Shops. Awards were given to five anglers for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd largest bass, largest pickerel and most bass caught. All fish caught were successfully measured, photographed and released, thanks to our 12 marshals who helped keep track of the fish caught and keep everything official,” he explained.
Around the same time he hosted the fishing tournament, Mulvey-McFerron made an exceptional catch of his own. He was selected as one of the 2015 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Hollings Scholars. The two-year program includes a summer internship with a NOAA researcher, which will take place this summer. In October, he will apply for research opportunities throughout the country. He’ll complete a 10-week internship at a location of his choosing in the summer and then present his research at the NOAA Headquarters in Silver Spring, MD.
Mulvey-McFerron knows that he wants to be a fisheries scientist, so he chose Stockton University.
“I wanted to have a hands-on degree program with opportunities to get involved with research, and Stockton provided a rigorous program that fit what I was looking for,” he explained.
“My first semester of my freshman year I was out on a boat for Intro to Marine Biology. I don’t know of any other schools that can do that for undergrads. Between the professors, and the resources available at the Nacote Creek Field Station, the Marine Science program at Stockton is really top notch, and of all the schools I looked at on the East Coast, Stockton was the most hands-on. Stockton also has a wonderful scholarship program that made it possible for me to come out-of-state in the first place,” he said.
At age 3, Mulvey-McFerron caught his first fish. The memory is very clear. He was at a local lake with his father when he reeled in a sunfish. The nearest beach was three hours away, so he learned to fish on local freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers with his father and uncle.
Fast-forward nearly two decades, and he’s catching sharks on the ocean, freshwater sport fish on Lake Fred and striped bass in nearby estuaries.
“Between my dad and my uncle, I spent lots of time fishing while learning about different methods and techniques to target different fish. I really began teaching myself in middle school to broaden my knowledge base and skill set, and from then on I’ve been taking every chance I get to get out on the water. I started seriously saltwater fishing early on in high school, and since coming to Stockton I’ve really become obsessed with it,” he said.
Last year and over the summer, he interned at the American Fisheries Society headquarters in Bethesda, MD, where he worked on “policy statements with various supporting documents to help determine the efficacy of each policy and allow for easy referencing of each policy with the corresponding research and other supporting documents.”
His dream is to work somewhere warm to better understand the apex predators of our oceans in an effort to conserve their populations. He would want to work on a shark-tagging program to help scientists track shark migration and movement, behavior, abundance, mortality and growth rates.
He’s recently been following the travels of Great White Mary Lee. “I used to go to Chincoteague every summer, which was one of the places she wound up. I can’t imagine a 3,400-pound shark in the water near there. It’s pretty shallow, especially in the back bays where they tracked her,” he said.
Mulvey-McFerron knew that Stockton was the right school for him thanks to Mark Sullivan, associate professor of Marine Science.
“He was the first professor I met at Stockton, and after sitting in on one of his classes I decided that this was the school for me. Since I came to Stockton, he’s been a great professor, preceptor and mentor for me,” he said.
He also loves Stockton’s campus and the surrounding environment. “I enjoy all kinds of fishing, which is one of the things about Stockton I love. I can fish for bass in Lake Fred less than five minutes from my room, or take a 30-minute drive and be at a number of the best striper spots in the state,” he said.
While he’s not fishing, Mulvey-McFerron enjoys mountain biking, hiking and playing guitar. He looks forward to getting more Stockton students interested in fishing by hosting another bass tournament in the near future.