• Tracy

Missy Petty - Senior Conservation Biologist and Contracts Manager at Conservation Fisheries

Updated: Jul 7




Today, we return to the original intention of VanWhy CoOp - interviewing people with a passion for the work that they do. This week, we sat down with Missy Petty. She loves her work. So much so, she cannot call what she does work. Her story is the WHY of VanWhy.

Heads Up: We encourage readers of this article to listen to our full length Sit Down with Missy, which can be found on Spotify.


What Is Conservation Fisheries? Conservation Fisheries, INC, (CFI)is a 501(c)3 Non Profit organization started in 1986 with the mission of the preservation of aquatic biodiversity in our streams and rivers. Their primary goal is to restore our waters to their healthiest state, by propagating endangered and rare species of fishes. The populations that CFI primarily works with are endangered, rare, hard to collect, and even almost extinct.


At their headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee, is a humble office and lab where they breed fish to return to their habitats. Some fish are taken by CFI to their original waters, some are utilized by partners, such as the University of Arkansas for population enhancement and research. CFI truly restores fish that were all but eliminated due to habitat destruction, pollution, or climate change.


The lab has two rooms that are heated and cooled to precise spring temperatures. (Spring as in natural water spring, not season spring). The tanks contain specific heat pumps that equalize the temperatures for the specific breeds of fish. One example of fish, the Spring Pygmy Sunfish is extremely endangered, only found in one spring and creek complex on the planet. At CFI, they had an entire room dedicated to the Spring Pygmy Sunfish, in hopes of securing funding and finding a location someday that would be suitable to repopulate.

The work that CFI does impacts future generations, and the founders, and Missy, love their work so much, they continue to work on the weekends, all year long.


Missy Petty Says It Doesn’t Feel Like Work Missy is a spunky, avid conservationist who started out in college intending to become a nurse. While at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, pursuing her degree, she realized it was not a fit. Surrounded by the limitless possibilities the college environment provides , she discovered Environmental Law. After switching her major, she found a summer internship program that introduced her to the founders of CFI, and later landed her the job she loves today. She did graduate work at Virginia Tech on freshwater mollusks, but returned to CFI after the founders called her and offered her a job.


She has been there since 2008, and cannot imagine doing anything else.


When we sat down to talk, she said numerous things such as “this job chose me” and “I don’t feel like any part of my work is hard” and “I would not be doing anything else with my life, other than this.”


Bluemask Darter Fish, Conservation Fisheries meeting with Missy Petty and VanWhy CoOp
Bluemask Darter

Missy talked in depth about the species of fishes at Conservation Fisheries, including the Crystal Darter, the Carolina Madtom, the Boulder Darter and the friendly Bluemask Darter, to name a few. And yes, they are friendly and even posed for pictures!


Missy’s work is so much more than caring for the fish, which require daily feedings and specific temperatures in order to thrive. She works with collecting data and managing the multiple grants that come in and out of the office. The grants fund the work that they do. And while Missy has said she is not making a lot of money, this does not impact her. She has learned to find joy in living with less, she said this with a smile. Recently, she purchased her very first home.


Living the Dream - Knowing Your Why Missy mentioned she was humbled to have us speak with her. Truly, however, we are the ones who gain, and reader, you are too. Knowing that there are people out there that adore their jobs AND make the world a better place is truly a gift. Missy glows when she talks of the work they do at Conservation Fisheries, even giggling that she would have trouble “retiring” from the work that she does.


Could anything be more inspiring?


Many thanks to Missy Petty for sitting down with us, for Conservation Fisheries for the work that they do, and for hosting our interview!


Boulder Darter fish at Conservation Fisheries
Boulder Darter at CFI

Get Involved with Conservation Fisheries Love the water? Love fish? Love the Southeast and its natural beauty? You can be a part of this great nonprofit, making a difference. Anytime you can catch a screening of Hidden Rivers, be sure to do so, as the screening and the profits go to support the work at CFI. Additionally, if you want to get your hands wet, literally, you can contact CFI for opportunities for volunteer work to be done onsite, and soon, keep your eyes out for an event at River Johns during the first weekend of August, when you can scope out the waters with snorkel and see the magic that lies beneath. Follow the work they do on Instagram, Facebook, and Vimeo.

At Van Why our vision is to educate and inspire others on what it takes to live in this manner and thus follow suit; encourage others to take the leap of faith and follow their passions and to be a definitive resource for those wanting to build their passion into a life's purpose.