In 1996, for example, a year after receiving her doctorate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Micheli obtained a grant from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries to settle a long-standing dispute between rival oyster and clam fishers. The problem was that each fishery used rakes, tongs or clam dredges that ended up accidentally destroying each other`s potential harvest.
To resolve the conflict, Micheli and her colleagues conducted a one-year study on reefs containing a mix of oysters and clams. The scientists found that clam rakes and oyster tongs reduced the oyster population by 50 to 80 percent, and that raking for clams - either alone or in combination with oyster tonging - decreased the number of clams by 50 to 90 percent. Oyster harvesting alone reduced the population of live clams at only one site.
Writing in the journal Fishery Bulletin, Micheli and co-author Hunter Lenihan concluded that clam and oyster fishing should be allowed on some oyster reefs, but that other reefs should be protected from both types of fishing so that both populations could have the opportunity to reproduce. Such protection would not only restore both fisheries but also have the added benefits of naturally improving water quality through filter feeding and providing new habitats for other species, they wrote.
The findings of Micheli and her co-workers eventually were adopted by state wildlife officials - thus resolving a feud between commercial fishing interests and helping return the shores of North Carolina to sustainability.