Cornelius' international nature was evident from an early age. Born to emigrant Germans in Australia, his name underwent an abbreviation to Neil and then a Germanization upon return to his parents' homeland to Nils. Although this is generally how he's been known since, he says "upon getting older, I came to like my original name much more and am happy to be called Cornelius as well."
Nils also discovered his calling early on.
"As a teenager, I figured out that I always wanted to be close to or at sea, and a little later my wish to become a biologist developed," he says. "At the age of 17, I worked as a volunteer on a Swedish herring cutter and loved the work and atmosphere. From there it was only a small step to fisheries biology. The decision was made, and looking back it wasn't bad."
Nils went on to study that chosen subject in Hamburg and, with "the firm expectation of being unemployed after, gave away everything I didn't need to begin newly in Australia, still my inner home." However, he was handed a job for the German technical cooperation and soon found himself as a project assistant in Manila in the Philippines as part of an international team helping to reorganize the College of Fisheries. He then headed back to Hamburg for his PhD, graduating as a Doctor in 1988 and then again in 1996 having worked as an assistant professor; during this latter period, Nils penned his professorial thesis, on the swimming physiology of fish.
In 1994 he started as a senior scientist at the Thünen Institute of Sea Fisheries in Hamburg, heading the pelagic section. It was around this time that he first crossed paths with ICES.
"When I began at ICES I instantly realised that there was a certain ICES feeling, a sort of family working there. I found it extremely intriguing to work with all these different nationalities, these personalities in a group with experts who I admired greatly. I have a very international attitude and I found this attitude realized in ICES," says Nils, whose other research interests include the bioenergetics of fish, fishery management and alternative management approaches, and recruitment of fish stocks.
Nils has been involved in a number of ICES working groups, running the mackerel and horse mackerel egg survey, redfish hydroacoustic survey, and the herring survey as a member of the Herring Assessment Working Group (HAWG). He eventually become a member of the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management (ACFM) – the precursor to the Advisory Committee (ACOM) – and of the Consultative Committee (now the Science Committee, SCICOM).
In 2002, Nils traded Hamburg for Rostock, taking on the role of director at the Thünen Institute of Baltic Sea Fisheries – "a challenge and very rewarding task." He then became his country's delegate to ICES and started teaching at the University of Rostock. At ICES, meanwhile, he progressed to First Vice-President in 2012 before being appointed President in October 2015 for a three-year term.
As well as pledging to be the eyes and ears of the organization under his presidency, working closely with the expert groups and Secretariat staff, Nils will also advance ICES strategic work in the core action areas, ensuring the delivery of more integrated scientific advice across the board.
Cornelius (Nils) Hammer, ICES President