Alaska Sea Grant Implementation Plan

Addressing Priority Research Issues


  1. Economic Leadership
  2. Coastal Ecosytem Health and Public Safety
  3. Education and Human Resources

Working for Alaska and the Nation

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program has the unique challenge of representing the marine resources in coastal communities across the largest state in the United States, with 44,000 miles of coastline. Given the immensity of Alaska's marine resource base, we have worked to achieve a program of selected research, outreach, and public information and education which is focused and prioritized to make the best possible use of available federal and state funding base. Practical realities demanded that we develop a strategic plan for 2004–2006 to provide a context for our research, extension, and information services. We intend to move dynamically from the current strategic plan to a new set of strategies, to be incorporated in a new plan for the future. That strategic plan will be available in 2004.

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Implementing Goals of the Alaska Sea Grant Program, 2004–2006

This implementation plan includes research, education, and information transfer activities that address the goals of the above strategic plan, developed in 2002 by then-interim director, Susan Sugai, for inclusion with our announcement of funding opportunity released in December 2002.

Brian Allee joined the Alaska Sea Grant Program as director in February 2003. In addition to being Alaska Sea Grant director, Allee is also Extension Director for the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (SFOS), the unit where Alaska Sea Grant resides.

In response to our program assessment in 2001, Allee has implemented a number of management changes. Creation of the ASG Management Team has forged increased collaboration and cooperation between the Marine Advisory Program (MAP), based in Anchorage, and Alaska Sea Grant Information Services (ASGIS), based in Fairbanks. Submission of a comprehensive Marine Advisory Program project (A/152-20: Alaska Marine Advisory Program) provides the overall context and incorporates activities being proposed by all the agents and specialists within the state. The ASGIS proposal is presented in A/161-01: Information Services.

Addressing Alaska Sea Grant Strategic Goals 2004–2006

I. Economic Leadership

Goal 1: Develop production and management strategies that make Alaska fishery resources sustainable and competitive.

Alaska's seafood bounty is a resource important to the state and the nation. Because commercial fishing and seafood processing provide more jobs than oil, gas, mining, agriculture, and forestry combined, Alaska Sea Grant will continue to make strategic investments in maintaining and enhancing sustainable, competitive fisheries. During the 2004–2006 period, we will fund four new peer-reviewed research projects and two development projects, each supporting a graduate student in fisheries or marine biology, that address six of our regional issues under this first Alaska Sea Grant goal.

Understanding the interactions of multiple species (regional issue 1a) in coastal ecosystems where the gear from commercial fisheries can have unintended effects upon non-target species, including marine mammals, will be addressed in R/33-02: Humpback Whale Entanglement Rates in Fishing Gear in Southeast Alaska. Hills and her graduate student, Doherty, will estimate entanglement rates of various segments of the humpback whale population in relation to location and intensity of fishing pressure. Hills, who serves on the scientific and statistical committee of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC), recognizes that developing quantitative entanglement rates of humpback whales will foster informed discussions regarding this management issue. Knowledge of the vulnerability of humpback whales to entanglement can lead to proactive management strategies involving the fishing fleet that can minimize or eliminate the need for additional restrictions.

Knowledge of stock structure of the Alaskan Dungeness crab population is extremely difficult because these important crustaceans produce millions of long-lived pelagic larvae that may drift well beyond local management areas. In R/31-12: Larval Advection and Retention of Alaskan Dungeness Crab: Interactions with Phylogeography and Stock Structure, Shirley, Baco-Taylor, and Shank will use mitochondrial DNA coupled with traditional zooplankton techniques to address regional priority 1b that relates not only to the commercial fisheries but to the future establishment of marine reserves.

In partnership with the North Pacific Research Board, we are providing graduate student support to Kruse for his development project RR/02-02: Environmental Cues for Herring Spawning and Inseason Fishery Management. This project is developing spatially explicit models to predict interannual variability of three features of herring spawning: timing, locations, and roe content. Predictive models of spawning events and roe content based upon oceanographic conditions and ecological and biological features (regional priority 1c) would be invaluable tools to fishery managers seeking to time the fishery optimally for maximum roe content without having to deploy expensive field sampling crews in the remote area near Togiak, the state's largest and most valuable herring fishery.

Determining management strategies for diverse assemblages of species (regional priority 1d) will be addressed for Pacific ocean perch (POP) by Gharrett and his graduate student, Palof, in their development project, RR/03-04: Population Structure in Alaskan Pacific Ocean Perch (Sebastes alutus),> Phase III, which builds on previous funding from the Cooperative Institute for Arctic Research (CIFAR). Preliminary microsatellite studies indicate that a geographically based population structure exists for POP, the Alaskan rockfish species that is the largest contributor to rockfish harvest. In this project, funded in partnership with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Auke Bay Laboratory (ABL), Alaska Sea Grant provides graduate student stipend support for Palof while other expenses are covered by ABL.

Improving stock assessment models is a priority that affects both U.S. coasts as the result of spectacular fisheries collapses and the public perception that insufficient attention is given to ecological effects of fisheries harvests. Quinn from UAF's Juneau Center, SFOS, and Collie from University of Rhode Island, together with their graduate students, will develop a new multispecies fisheries model in a project jointly funded by the Alaska and Rhode Island Sea Grant Programs. In collaboration with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, the Alaska component, R/31-11: Multispecies Assessment Models for Fisheries Management, will address the effectiveness of stock assessment models involving single and multiple species (regional priority 1e) in the Gulf of Alaska. The new multispecies fisheries model will also be applied to species in the Georges Bank, working with colleagues at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and to the North Sea through collaboration with Denmark scientists. As a member of the NPFMC's scientific and statistical committee since 1986, Quinn ensures that his research is directly applied to management needs, whereby his project directly fulfills all three Sea Grant missions of research, education, and outreach.

Using pink salmon as a model with their fixed and short (2 years) lifespan, Gharrett and Smoker continue to address the Alaska Sea Grant regional priority 1f of examining the biological effects of hatchery-produced salmon on wild stocks of Pacific salmon. In R/31-10: Effects of Hybridization between Seasonally Distinct Pink Salmon Subpopulations: A Model for Outbreeding Depression in Pacific Salmon. Phase I, Gharrett, Smoker, and their graduate student will examine effects of outbreeding in hybrids between seasonally distinct pink salmon populations that share the same stream but have become adapted to very different temperature regimes. This kind of outbreeding depression is an extremely pertinent topic area and could easily result from unintentional hybridization between, for example, fall and spring races of chinook salmon due to hatchery practices or constructions of dams that "force" hybridization in spawning areas immediately below dams that prevent further upstream passage.

Another crosscutting mission of the Alaska Sea Grant Program is our international Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium Series. In this continuing project funded jointly by Alaska Sea Grant, NMFS, NPFMC, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and external grants for specific topics, we bring together high latitude researchers and resource managers to address topics that are timely and key to the understanding and management of commercially harvested species (regional priority 1g).

Our 2004–2006 implementation plan includes three symposia in various stages of planning, development, and publishing. In October 2004, the Lowell Wakefield Symposium on Sea Lions of the World: Conservation and Research in the 21st Century will take place with additional funding obtained from the National Sea Grant Office as part of the Steller Sea Lion Research Initiative. Planning is under way for the 2005 symposium on Biology, Assessment, and Management of Pacific Rockfishes and for 2006 on Resiliency of Gadid Stocks to Fishing and Climate Change, which will be part of the American Fisheries Society's annual national meeting in Anchorage, Alaska—again intertwining Alaska Sea Grant–funded research (priorities 1a-f) with direct management applications. Proceedings of these symposia are published as part of ASG's contribution to public knowledge and dissemination of information.

MAP personnel Wynne, Garza, and Johnson, will advise policy groups so that federal, state and regional fishery managers and marine policy managers will better understand the economic, social and ecological impacts of their decisions on Alaskans and Alaskan resources. Cullenberg and ASGIS will publish university-based research and publications that contribute to the sustainability of Alaska's fisheries. The Tools for the Salmon Industry initiative will be enhanced and used as a means to highlight the university's contributions to this industry (priority 1g).

Goal 2: Increase the value of the seafood industry by enhancing quality and safety, and encouraging development of new products, processing, and markets.

In 2001, the ex-vessel value of the state's catch of salmon, crab, halibut, groundfish, and herring was $974 million, the wholesale and value-added sale of seafood caught in Alaska generated an additional $1.3 billion, more than any other state. With harvests unlikely to increase, the second goal of the Alaska Sea Grant Program becomes progressively more important as we look toward the future.

Although Alaska could support one of the potentially richest shellfish industries in the world, contamination by paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) toxins remains a formidable stumbling block for developing a viable shellfish industry. The problem of whether bacteria are involved with saxitoxin production has been around for decades, has proven difficult to answer, and is highly controversial. Plumley in R/95-04: Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning: Bacteria as Regulators of Alexandrium Growth and Toxin Synthesis will develop a model system for studying interactions between bacteria and a toxic alga, and will determine the effects of specific bacterial gene mutations on algal saxitoxin synthesis. While admittedly a long-term project, Plumley, Lang (a post-doctoral researcher funded by a Canadian Natural Science and Engineering Research Council award), and a graduate student will be applying innovative, new molecular techniques to understanding toxin synthesis, required before shellfish safety (regional priority 2a) can be predictably assured.

Alaskans who harvest shellfish for consumption will have access to a wider information base on paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) occurrence in the state. RaLonde, Garza, and Mercy will compile all available Alaskan data on PSP testing of shellfish and associated oceanographic and climatic data into a single database. A video public service announcement on PSP will be produced (priority 2a).

Maintaining consistent quality (regional priority 2a)—a major challenge to Alaska seafood processors—affects marketability of salmon and other fish that are harvested on fishing vessels based out of small rural communities which lack refrigeration and fresh water common in urban settings. In R/51-03: Quality Inspection of Alaska Salmon Using Two Portable Odor Detection Devices, Oliveira, a new faculty member at the Fishery Industrial Technology Center (FITC) in Kodiak, together with Crapo and Himelbloom will evaluate the performance of two portable electronic noses as tools for quality evaluation of salmon. Two industry partners will assist by providing raw product, access to their facilities for trials, and technical assistance in both Kodiak and Valdez.

With many of the seafood scientists in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska retiring or approaching retirement age, educating a new generation is a critical consideration for Alaska. Thus, the Alaska Sea Grant Program has partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) Special Grants Program to help train a new seafood scientist. While CSREES grants can include student stipends, they cannot include tuition, which poses a significant deterrent to potential students when combined with the transportation isolation and high cost of living in Kodiak, where the Fishery Industrial Technology Center (FITC) is located. In partnering with the USDA, we are supporting approximately 10% of the total project costs of RR/03-03: Staphylococcus aureus and Listeria monocytogenes Survivability during Pellicle Formation in Hot-Smoked Salmon. In this project, which addresses two Alaska Sea Grant priority issues, seafood quality assurance (2a) and production of new salmon products (3a), Himelbloom and his graduate student will examine whether microbial processes are mitigated by the hot-smoke process used in creating value-added products from salmon.

Sathivel, a second new FITC faculty, is addressing regional priority 2b by developing edible films for salmon from arrowtooth flounder, a bycatch species taken in trawl and longline fisheries. In his project, R/54-01: Developing Protein Powder and Edible Coating for Salmon from Underutilized Arrowtooth Flounder, Sathivel will produce protein powder from arrowtooth flounder, evaluate its properties, and then formulate edible films from the powder for use in coating salmon fillets as a means of increasing shelf life and quality.

Increased worldwide competition is forcing Alaska fishermen and processors to become better marketers and business operators. Training in marketing and in seafood quality and safety is essential for these efforts to succeed. MAP and ASGIS will work to produce technical flyers on HACCP requirements, sanitation/best processing techniques, and processing practices. The flyers will assist processors in completing HACCP plans and in following HACCP guidelines. In addition, workshops and training will be offered throughout Alaska by Crapo, Kramer, Kolbe, and Brown. Topics include: HACCP Alliance workshops, Better Process Control School (BPCS) for seafood canners, Sanitation classes, and Quality Assurance/Quality Control training (priority 2c).

Short-course materials and modules addressing the transportation, storage and thawing of frozen seafood—the seafood "cold chain"—will be planned and produced. In two publications, Planning Seafood Cold Storage manual and Seafood Freezing Planning Manual, the seafood industry will have access to the latest seafood freezing methods and technology, research, and information about handling and processing techniques that reduce costs and improve product quality (priorities 2c and 2d).

By updating Recoveries and Yields from Pacific Fish and Shellfish (Crapo, MAP), a book seafood processors use to estimate product yield, ASGIS will help seafood processors increase revenue by getting maximum yield out of raw product (priority 2c).

Goal 3. Address sustainability of coastal communities faced with changes in marine resource availability and value.

Sustainability of Alaska's coastal communities, where geographic isolation and absence of road access creates few viable options for the fishing industry, provides challenges that the third Alaska Sea Grant goal addresses. Affected communities, fishers, and processors must stimulate restructuring of the salmon industry through the production and marketing of quality products (regional priority 3a). Success of these new products ultimately depends upon both economic feasibility and market preferences for products. Herrmann and his graduate student Xu in RR/03-02: An Economic Analysis of Producing and Exporting Alaska Salmon Protein Powder to China, will investigate the existing Chinese market for fish powder, the potential Chinese market for Alaska salmon protein powder, and the Alaska processing plants that might produce the salmon powder. In China, production of fish protein from river fish does not meet current demand for supplementing children's diets, and China fish protein powder has less protein and less desirable taste than salmon powder. Thus, production and marketing of protein powder from Alaska salmon may provide a niche market for an Alaskan industry desperate for new markets. Alaska Sea Grant is providing graduate student stipend and tuition for Xu, who has training in Chinese law and extensive business experience in developing and marketing new products in China, and whose M.S. thesis will forecast the economic feasibility of producing and exporting Alaska salmon protein powder to China.

The decline in price for Alaska salmon has struck hard in coastal communities from Ketchikan to Kotzebue. Residents are struggling to respond either through attempting to increase value in the salmon fishery, or by diversifying the economy of the region. MAP is collaborating with communities across Alaska on locally driven projects that can enhance the economic well-being of a community, as well as preserve its natural resources.

ASGIS and MAP will help commercial fishermen increase their income by producing and distributing a booklet, written by Johnson (MAP) that will reveal methods Alaska fishermen have used to successfully market their fish directly to consumers and retailers (priority 3a). RaLonde (MAP) will produce guides to littleneck clam mariculture, Pacific oyster culture, mussel culture, and scallop culture, all of which will help people build and operate mariculture facilities (priority 3f).

To enhance the development of commercial shellfish aquaculture ventures in Alaska, RaLonde, Garza, and Fong will provide technical assistance, access to research results, and information. Technical assistance and training in areas such as nursery culture, quality and sanitation issues, shellfish holding and transportation, processing, business management, and marketing will be provided to commercial shellfish growers in partnership with the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association. Two aquaculture manuals will be published by ASGIS. Pilot projects testing blue mussel culture will be coordinated with the Kachemak Bay Shellfish Mariculture Association (priority 3f).

Through distribution of Charter Log and Boatkeeper, Johnson will assist over 1,000 charterboat operators across the state in accessing current news, information, and research that will help them to operate more efficiently and effectively. Johnson will also assist ecotourism operators in developing best operating practices to preserve wild areas of the state. In conjunction with operators and USFWS, MAP will coordinate an effort to develop guidelines for ecotourism operators in Kachemak Bay (which may be applicable elsewhere in the state), and will present these guidelines through written pamphlets, the Internet, video public service announcements, and meetings (priority 3e).

Harbor pollution will be addressed by Johnson and Mercy who will develop a pilot program called "Clean Marinas." A set of best management practices will be developed in partnership with port operators. MAP will collaborate with ASGIS to produce a variety of public education materials (priority 3b).

II. Coastal Ecosystem Health and Public Safety

Goal 4. Prepare for and respond to natural coastal hazards and climate change in coastal communities.

The effects of global climate change are already being observed in arctic regions. Coastal communities that rely on subsistence and commercial fishing will continue to be affected. The fourth goal of the Alaska Sea Grant program addresses the need to prepare for and respond to both natural coastal hazards and climate change. In R/101-04: Sea Ice Biota off Barrow, Alaska: An Important Food Source for Higher Trophic Levels in Coastal Alaskan waters, Gradinger and Bluhm, two new SFOS faculty in biological oceanography and marine biology, respectively, will address community and environmental resilience to changes in climate (regional priority 4a). Ice-associated amphipods are a major food source for arctic cod, Boreogadus saida, and other coastal fish, which in turn are important food for marine mammals and subsistence fishers. Understanding the importance of ice biota to the productivity of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas is critical since scientists have recorded drastic changes in the ice regime that already affect the subsistence lifestyle of these Native populations.

Hazard mitigation and safety at sea (regional priority 4b) will be addressed by MAP and ASGIS.

Recreational boating safety will be addressed by Johnson, who has partnered with Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Office of Boating Safety, to produce one regional safety supplement to the state's Alaska Boater's Handbook. At least two additional regional supplements will be completed, to be published by the Office of Boating Safety. ASGIS will help prevent injuries and deaths in marine and freshwater recreation activities by creating a "safety-at-sea" Web section, including interactive elements, geared for ecotourists and recreational boaters.

ASGIS will begin promotion and distribution of a video on tsunamis in Alaska, a project that will be completed in 2004. Aimed at a general audience, community leaders, and emergency responders, this program will cover the history, threat, and physics of tsunamis in Alaska; describe current tsunami modeling work (originated by Sea Grant–funded researchers) being done in Alaska through the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program; and provide advice on how to prepare for and respond to tsunamis. The project is a partnership with the UAF Geophysical Institute and the Alaska Division of Emergency Services.

III. Education and Human Resources

Goal 5: Produce highly trained workforce.

Although the Alaska Sea Grant College Program has the smallest core budget of any West Coast Sea Grant College Program while having more coastline than all the other 29 Sea Grant programs combined, we must invest our federal funds where they provide both immediate and future outcomes. The fifth goal of the Alaska Sea Grant Program is to produce a highly trained workforce. Project E/142-01: Alaska Sea Grant Traineeships 2004–2006 defines Alaska Sea Grant's role in educating specialists to wisely manage Alaska's abundant marine resources. This project consistently yields our most visible and important outcomes. In the current cycle, approximately 21% of our core federal budget will be directed at graduate traineeships associated with funded research projects and other educational programs (regional priority 5b).

Nine graduate students in fisheries, marine science, and seafood science will be supported on peer-reviewed research projects (R/31-10, R/31-11, R/31-12, R/33-02, R51-03, R/54-01, R/72-01, R/95-04, R/101-04), and four new or continuing graduate students will be supported by Alaska Sea Grant development funds in partnership with support from USDA, NMFS, CIFAR, and North Pacific Research Board (RR/02-02, RR/03-02, RR/03-03, RR/03-04).

We also partner with the UAF Center for Global Change and Arctic System Research in supporting two awards from the annual Global Change Student Research Grant Competitions. Student proposals to this competition are for up to two years and may amount to no more than $5000 per year. Proposals are peer-reviewed by UAF faculty and then a review panel meets to select successful projects for funding. Alaska Sea Grant has provided a representative to the review panel and support for up to two projects a year that address Sea Grant strategic goals (priority 5b).

Alaskans involved with the seafood industry want to increase their skills and contributions, and federal and state natural resource managers are interested in involving local residents in research and environmental monitoring activities. MAP will provide relevant formal and nonformal educational opportunities (priority 5a and 5e).

RaLonde, Cullenberg, and Garza will work to increase opportunities for local residents to be employed in natural resource management projects operated by the variety of state and federal agencies managing Alaska's public lands (priority 5a).

A meeting and follow-up workshop organized by MAP will facilitate communication, information transfer, and establishment of a formal network between state and federal agencies who manage the public lands in Alaska, researchers working across the state, and local groups who are interested in participating in field activities (priority 5a and 5d).

MAP will serve as instructors and resource persons for professional training provided by agencies and groups to local residents employed in natural resource projects. Agencies and groups that provide this training will be assisted in applying university credit to their activities when possible, and field campuses of the University of Alaska will receive information about natural resource/fisheries degree programs and opportunities for local residents (priority 5e).

RaLonde and Brown will work with local watershed planning efforts and train local residents as water quality monitors and environmental monitors in conjunction with EPA funding, to help increase local participation in environmental monitoring activities and watershed management (priority 5a).

Goal 6: Create scientifically and environmentally informed citizens.

Although A/152-20: Alaska Marine Advisory Program and A/161-01: Information Services primarily address this sixth goal of the Alaska Sea Grant Program, we are funding a peer-reviewed research project by Haas, a new Fairbanks-based UAF Fisheries faculty, that addresses our regional priority 6d by involving local fishers in pertinent and visible research. In R/72-01: Combining Traditional Ecological Knowledge with Fisheries Science to Facilitate and Guide Partnered Management and Studies on Anadromous Whitefish, Haas and his graduate student, Runfola, will utilize local traditional ecological knowledge of whitefish species to assist managers in identifying whitefish species stock, distributions, life history, and seasonal habitat on the Yukon River Delta.

The opinions of Alaskans hold significant sway over the management of the most extensive land, water, fish, wildlife, and mineral resources in the nation. Even decisions regarding federal lands, waters, and resources in Alaska often defer toward opinions of local residents. The informed opinion of Alaska's citizens is critical to the sustainable use and conservation of Alaska's natural resources. An important role for Sea Grant and MAP is to transfer science-based information to its citizens in a timely, non-biased, and user-friendly way.

The Marine Advisory Program and Alaska Sea Grant Information Services (Steiner, Schneider, and Mercy) work together and independently to carry out ASG's information transfer activities. Television, radio programs, and public service announcements (PSAs) aired throughout the state will provide the medium for MAP and ASGIS to inform Alaska's residents on land, water, fish, wildlife and mineral resources. Participation in workshops and trade shows, and production of a variety of field identification guides, outdoor survival and safety guides, and other publications will also provide a means of getting scientifically based information to the public (priorities 6a, 6c, and 6e).