UAF student is awarded marine policy fellowship in D.C.



NR: SG-2014/NR265
Thomas Farrugia with large skate Thomas Farrugia prepares to release a big skate (Beringraja binoculata) after tagging it with a pop-up satellite archival transmitting tag. Data collected by the tag will be used to study the movement patterns and habitat use of the skate in the Gulf of Alaska. Photo by Elisa Russ. Click image for larger version [1.4 MB].

Fairbanks, Alaska—Thomas Farrugia, a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, will soon be working in Washington, D.C., as a 2015 National Sea Grant Knauss Fellow.

This prestigious Knauss Fellowship was established in 1979 to provide insight and training to graduate-level students interested in how the nation’s marine resources are managed and how marine policies are made. Farrugia was one of 50 students nationwide selected for the class of 2015, which begins next February.

“It is quite an accomplishment for Thomas to be selected,” said Ginny Eckert, Alaska Sea Grant associate director for research.

Knauss Fellows receive a year’s stipend while working in Washington, D.C., either within marine resource agencies of the federal executive branch or in congressional committees that help set the nation’s marine polices.

“Thomas has been selected as a legislative fellow, which is the most competitive Knauss Fellow placement,” Eckert said. “Reviewers were impressed with his background and experiences with fisheries in Alaska along with his impressive publication record and participation in the MESAS (Marine Ecosystem Sustainability in the Arctic and Subarctic) program.”

Being selected as a legislative fellow fits well with Farrugia’s plans for his future.

“I think I will learn how legislation is crafted and what goes into the legislative process," he said. "It is going to give me some experience with the public policy aspect of natural resource management in the oceans.”

As a UAF graduate student, Farrugia has been studying sharks, skates and rays. “I’m not specializing in them, I feel like I’m more of a fisheries biologist that happens to study sharks and rays. My PhD research has been on the development of potential skate fisheries in Alaska. So I’m moving away from pure biology into applied biology and fishery economics. “

Farrugia is working on his dissertation now but will put it on hold for his year as a Knauss Fellow. On completion of his doctorate, he said, “I’d like to work at the international level on developing fishery management plans with countries that may not have them.”

The Knauss Fellowship interested Farrugia when he began his doctoral work four years ago. “However, Keith Criddle, who is on my PhD committee and a former Knauss Fellow, recommended I wait to apply, suggesting that it was more of a late-degree kind of thing to do,” Farrugia said.

Farrugia hopes that through this fellowship he will be involved in creating marine policy or fishery resource legislation. “I know the whole process takes a long time and probably won’t happen in the year I’m there,” said Farrugia. “But even if it happens down the road, the fact that I get to be part of something that is passed and put into law would be exciting.”

For now, he says, “I think the most difficult thing will be living in Washington, D.C. I grew up in San Francisco so I’m fine with big cities, but the pace of getting things done may be a challenge—and also wearing a suit every day. I’ve only lived in Alaska four years, but I’ve come to really enjoy the Alaska lifestyle.”

The Knauss Fellowship is named in honor of John A. Knauss, one of Sea Grant's national founders and a former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) administrator. Alaska Sea Grant nominated Farrugia and is one of the nationwide network of 33 university-based NOAA programs engaged in scientific research, education, training and extension.

Alaska Sea Grant is a statewide marine research, education, and outreach program, and is a partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory agents provide assistance that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy marine and coastal resources.