Remembering Jim Kirkley

By John Walden, Rolf Fare, Dale Squires, and Sean Pascoe

Jim Kirkley passed away September 22, 2011 after a three year battle with cancer. He leaves behind his wife Kathy, three daughters, Kelley, Kara, and Krista, one son, Jamie and four grandchildren, Dylan, Zach, Kylie and Kingston. For those of us who knew and worked with Jim, we have lost a colleague, mentor, and most importantly friend. Jim Kirkley will be remembered as one of the most influential economists of his generation for his contributions to United States fisheries policies, and his ground breaking studies of fishing vessel economics, particularly multispecies harvesting, productivity, efficiency and capacity. More generally, he is known for his introduction of rigorous empirical analysis of fisheries, for emphasizing fisher behavior, and for introducing the viewpoint that fisheries can be analyzed as an industrial sector exploiting a natural resource. Jim was among the first field economists for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and his success in Woods Hole spawned an expansion of economics programs within the agency, leading to their integral part within NMFS as both part of the fisheries management process, and also as independent research programs.

It is difficult to cover the breadth of Jim’s legacy in just a few paragraphs, but it is fitting to highlight some of his major accomplishments and contributions. Jim received his M.S. degree in 1975, and his Ph.D. in Agriculture and Resource Economics from the University of Maryland in 1985. Jim's dissertation at Maryland was a revenue function analysis of Georges Bank fisheries, and was among the first empirical applications of dual-based approaches to fisheries analyses. At the time, this was a significant contribution to the fisheries economics literature, and his approach is still being used today, particularly in constructing supply functions when no cost data are available. Perhaps even more fundamental, it initiated rigorous empirically grounded research at the level of the individual vessels using microeconometric principles.

Equally impressive, was that during the time he was writing his dissertation, he was employed by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) stationed in Woods Hole, where he was the lead economist, which somewhat understates his role in Woods Hole. In fact, for some time, he was the only economist in Woods Hole. Jim’s skills must have impressed his superiors, as they had him draft a plan for expanding the Woods Hole economics group. Twenty-five years later, his group is still active and has grown to the largest concentration of economists in NMFS.

After finishing his dissertation, Jim left Woods Hole and moved to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, where he was the only economist among numerous natural scientists. This placed Jim in a unique position, and led Jim to consistently reach out to others to collaborate on what he thought were interesting problems. In particular, he worked with both Dale Squires in La Jolla and Rolf Färe at Oregon State University to model fishing vessel technical efficiency, capacity and productivity. He also devoted time assisting the fishing industry in Virginia with economic questions and problems, Jim Kirkley in 2010 doing what he loved most – Fishing!!! which is a large undertaking in a state with maritime interests as great as Virginia’s. Jim did this by establishing unique working relationships with industry, which better informed Jim as a researcher and resulted in some of his best research being deeply rooted in time spent with commercial fishing interests. In particular, two of his most cited works, Characterizing Managerial Skill and Technical Efficiency in a Fishery, and Assessing technical efficiency in fisheries: The Mid-Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery both were developed using data obtained through relationships he developed with commercial fishing vessel owners.

Jim's research spanned almost all areas of fisheries economics, and included work in the area of aquaculture, input-output analysis, essential fish habitat, recreational fishing, consumer demand, and production economics. His publication track includes everything from VIMS research reports to widely respected economics journals. He served as a reviewer on over 175 manuscripts for 20 different journals. During the last decade, Jim's primarily focused on measuring capacity, productivity and technical efficiency in fisheries. Jim's work contributed to a much better understanding, and much deeper literature on fishing capacity and technical efficiency than what existed a mere decade ago. This provided not only the essential theoretical backbone for capacity measurement, but also practical approaches for estimating capacity. Jim not only worked to assure capacity and other metrics were applied correctly, he further expanded these metrics by developing models where such things as discards, and alternative management objectives can be incorporated in capacity measurement. His work formed the basis for the FAO capacity definition, and his methods for estimating capacity were adopted internationally. In 2005 his capacity work was recognized by NOAA , and he was named an "Environmental Hero".

Jim Kirkley’s professional contributions and publications were impressive, but his most important legacy may well be the intellectual capital he so willingly shared. He served as a major advisor to 11 graduate students, and served on committees for 15 others, in addition to participating in over 50 qualifying or comprehensive exams. Jim consistently reached out to economists working in the National Marine Fisheries Service, and one of his most important contributions, which is perhaps often overlooked, was his mentoring of multiple generations of NMFS economists. Jim freely gave advice on tough economic questions, or models that were under development, and his influence touched NMFS economists in every region of the country. Jim Kirkley left behind a legacy that is much broader and deeper than most of us will achieve. The time he spent mentoring, teaching and encouraging current and future fisheries economists will have an impact lasting for decades.