Vol. 34, No. 6
An interview with Marine Advisory agent Torie Baker was highlighted in a NOAA National Sea Grant feature story during National Safe Boating Week. Baker has trained nearly 400 Cordova fishermen with safety drills and practices since 2005. She has trained youth, recreation and subsistence boaters, and researchers. “As a new fisherman some 25 years ago, I took a marine safety class taught by an Alaska Sea Grant agent…. I knew I wanted to help pass on the legacy of marine safety to others,” said Baker.
Baker’s responses to interview questions shared the safety cultural codes of Alaska fisherman. “I have a tremendous respect for the reciprocal assistance ethic in the commercial fleets—being alert and responsive to other vessels in distress is important. But also maintaining your equipment and training is paramount, because the boat that comes to your aid is, first, having to stop making a living, and, second, is putting their life, crew and equipment at risk. This code of conduct is engrained in the profession, and challenges everyone to keep up on their game,” said Baker.
Alaska Sea Grant has a long history of supporting marine safety in the state. Former Marine Advisory agent Hank Pennington played a key role in starting the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association in the early 1980s and Alaska Sea Grant director Paula Cullenberg sits on AMSEA’s board of directors. Marine Advisory agents Julie Matweyou and Gay Sheffield are trained as safety instructors, media specialist Deborah Mercy has produced about five safety videos, and Alaska Sea Grant publishes and distributes safety books and videos in partnership with AMSEA.
During his 28 years of leadership on the Pacific Salmon Commission, Marine Advisory agent Gary Freitag has worked to inform international fisheries catch allocations. This has helped ensure sustainable Pacific salmon stocks and acceptable harvest levels. The Pacific Salmon Commission plays a major role in managing transboundary salmon stocks between the United States and Canada, based on an international treaty.
Management agencies in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia provide data on the conduct of fisheries, preseason expectations, and enhancement activities, which is analyzed by binational technical committees. Freitag is a member of the Chinook Technical Committee that meets about five times per year to provide biological, management modeling, and enhancement expertise and to write recommendations to the commission panels.
Freitag’s contributions to the commission are appreciated by his colleagues. Dale Kelly, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association, said, “Gary has a talent for distilling complex theories and an array of data into practical, easy to understand materials. He is approachable, informative, and helpful to those of us who seek his counsel on issues.”
Composed primarily of Alaska harvests, US salmon fisheries are valued at more than $400 million ex-vessel annually, and British Columbia fisheries produce $22 million. In 2013, allocations resulted in 176,000 Chinook salmon for Alaska fisheries, over 258,000 Chinook salmon to Canadian fisheries, and a coast-wide landed catch of over 1.4 million salmon valued in excess of $45 million.
Alaska Sea Grant–funded PhD candidate Sean Brennan presented his thesis research, “Using Strontium Isotopes to Track Pacific Salmon Migrations in Alaska” earlier this month. Brennan has refined a new method to analyze fine scale population structure within watersheds for Alaska Chinook salmon using strontium isotopes, a naturally occurring geochemical tracer in rivers. The 87Sr/86Sr ratio is consistently maintained in physical and biological processes. The strontium ratio found in local stream water shows up in the otolith, a bone-like hearing structure in fish, thus revealing the location where the salmon hatched.
This method, along with genetic studies, can be used in the future to manage and monitor Pacific salmon biodiversity. Brennan’s studies were done on Chinook salmon in the Nushagak River in the Bristol Bay region, but the method is applicable to sockeye and coho salmon and even other migratory animals.
"I’ve been extremely grateful to Alaska Sea Grant because they’ve essentially given me an opportunity to research a subject that I’m really passionate about and try and develop a technology that I thought would be really useful," said Brennan. Brennan’s major professor is Matthew Wooller, professor of oceanography in the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and Water and Environmental Research Center.
Brennan will continue his research on salmon isotope tracking as a post-doctoral fellow with Daniel Schindler at the University of Washington, to evaluate the year-to-year production stability of Chinook from each region of the Nushagak River.
Alaska Sea Grant support is described by former graduate students as a key factor leading to their career success after graduation. Since the early 1980s, at least 90 former Alaska Sea Grant–funded graduate students have reported that they filled professional positions in federal and state agencies, academic institutions, and nongovernmental organizations. Funding from Alaska Sea Grant for these students ranged from a few semesters of tuition payment to four years of funding on long-term research projects, for master’s and PhD degrees.
In a recent informal survey, 12 former Alaska Sea Grant–funded students reported they are now employed at NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and other federal and state fishery and marine science agencies. Current employers also include Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and an environmental consulting company in Nova Scotia.
Several graduates indicated that Alaska Sea Grant was a significant force in their lives and key to their success. One student wrote, “My Alaska Sea Grant master’s project funding gave me a set of skills in the fields of the biological and social sciences that are unique within my office.”
Alaska Sea Grant is unique among graduate student funding opportunities because of its applied and interdisciplinary focus. Students interested in careers in federal and state management agencies, and other organizations, receive valuable training. As employees, these former students are now contributing to the wise use of coastal natural resources.