Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

University of Alaska Fills Need for Fisheries Professionals


April Rebert, a fishery biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and a master's degree student at CFOS, participates in an ADF&G diver survey in the summer of 2016. Photo courtesy of ADF&G.

From its campuses to broad based research in the field, the University of Alaska's College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences has for decades produced a wellspring of talent to enhance fisheries on a local, state and national level.

As the University of Alaska celebrates its centennial anniversary in 2017, graduates of the CFOS continue to fill jobs with the state of Alaska, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey and private sector firms on the domestic and international level.

Founded by a legislative mandate in 1960 as the Institute of Marine Science, the program expanded to become the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences in 1987, and in 2016 the school, based in Fairbanks, became the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

The 261-foot oceanographic research vessel Sikuliaq, owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by the college, is one of the most advanced university research ships in the world. It is home-ported at the Seward Marine Center in Seward, Alaska. Scientists from the United States and the international oceanography community, through the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System, conduct extensive at sea research projects aboard the Sikuliaq.

What makes the CFOS curriculum so special is that many of the research experiences result in publications, said Gordon Kruse, chairman of the Department

of Fisheries.

For the undergraduates, that's some, but for graduate students, it is most, as it is expected that the graduate students would tend to publish their work in peer reviewed scientific journals, he said.

"Our programs are recognized by fishery professionals nationally," Kruse said. "Students who complete the bachelor of sciences fisheries degree meet the educational requirements for professional certification with the American Fisheries Society," he said.

In addition to degree seeking students, the college each year attracts fishery professionals who enroll in courses in fishery management, population dynamics and statistics as part of their ongoing career development and lifelong learning. The college is exceptionally successful in providing graduates for the job market, he said.

Kruse earned a degree in biomathematics from Rutgers University, then went on to earn a masters and doctorate in fisheries at Oregon State University. Based at the university's Juneau campus, Kruse teaches courses ranging from fisheries ecology to marine invertebrates, and serves on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's scientific and statistical committee.

Trent Sutton, associate dean for academic programs within CFOS on the Fairbanks campus, holds a bachelor's degree in fisheries biology from Michigan State University, a master's degree in ecology from Michigan Technological University, and a doctorate in fisheries biology from Virginia polytechnic Institute and State University.

In addition to their teaching responsibilities, both remain engaged in a broad range of research projects on fisheries in Alaska and far beyond the state's borders.

The faculty of CFOS fisheries currently offers about 85 courses on a regular basis, including 35 undergraduate and about 50 graduate level.

Since 2007 alone, 45 percent of the 69 students who completed undergraduate programs have gone on to jobs with the state of Alaska or federal fisheries agencies, with another 14 percent at work at the university, 14 percent in the Alaska fishing industry, and 27 percent attending graduate school. Those who have earned post-graduate degrees on the master's and doctoral levels, likewise have gone on to state and federal government employment, work as fisheries consultants or in the fisheries industry, or as educators.

Most of those who left the state are employed at universities, federal and state agencies, other fishery organizations, tribal organizations, or the fisheries industry, and even for universities and government agencies in other countries, he said.

Vera Alexander, now a professor and dean emerita of the university, in 1965 became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from the University of Alaska. Alexander went on to serve as dean for the first 17 years of the former School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. She also was a visiting professor at the National Institute of Polar Research in Tokyo, and at the University of Turku,

in Finland.

In 2004, she stepped down as dean of SFOS, but has remained very active in international fisheries research. When the Sikuliaq was launched in a shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin, several years ago, Alexander was there for

the christening.

"I have my initials on the keel," she said.

Back when the old SFOS was started, "I wasn't looking for growth" (of the school), Alexander said. "I was looking for survival." The tough part was making those engaged in various related courses understand that they were now part of one unit, she said.

The college today, complete with an organized research unit, the Institute of Marine Science, is one of the largest and most geographically diverse academic and research organizations in the state. While the college is based in Fairbanks, courses are available from Nome to Ketchikan and Fairbanks

to Unalaska.

So why continue to headquarter fisheries studies on the only land-locked campus?

Alexander is quick to answer that question with one of her own.

"If you study solar physics, do you need to live on the sun?"

she said.

Key to the success of the CFOS studies today is the number of scholarships available to students.

The Ladd Macaulay graduate Fellowship in salmon Fisheries Research, for example, is funded through an endowment and donations provided to the university by Douglas Island Pink and Chum Inc., a private non-profit salmon enhancement organization based

in Juneau.

The pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center, through the end of 2014, put more than $20 million into marine research and education at COS, and is the largest single contributor to marine research at the university, and that number has only continued to increase, Kruse said.

The North Pacific Research Board, based in Anchorage, and the PCCRC have funded research into the decline in size-at-age of Pacific halibut in the Gulf of Alaska since the mid 1980s, he said.

For example, on average an age-20 female halibut weighed 121 pounds in 1988, but weighted 44 pounds in 2014. That decline has been associated with reduced halibut biomass and reduced quotas.

Under Kruse's direction, master's degree student Jane Sullivan examined potential effects of fishing and environment on halibut size at age. "Interestingly, we found no relationship between growth and environmental variables," Kruse said. "However, this result is consistent with previous findings. Results suggested a negative relationship between arrowtooth flounder biomass and halibut growth (more flounder, lower growth) and a similar, but lesser effect of halibut biomass on halibut growth," he said. "These ecological relationships explained only about 28 percent in the variability in growth, indicating that other factors were likely more responsible for the declining


However, Jane and her graduate committee constructed an age-and-size structured simulation model that suggested that size-selective fishing can explain between 30 percent to nearly 100 percent of the observed declines in size-at-age since the 1980s, depending on sex, age, and region.

"Size selective fishing is the disproportionate removal of larger fish from the halibut population. In particular, our results indicate that harvest rates were too high during 2000-2014. Recent changes by the International Pacific Halibut Commission have addressed some problems with their stock assessment models which contributed to excessive harvest rates, and there is evidence that further declines in size-at-age may be abating in recent years."

Additional research into the halibut size-at-age issue is being conducted by another doctoral student, Cheryl Barnes, under the direction of professor Anne Baudreau in another project funded by the PCCRC. Barnes is looking more into the hypothesis that competition between arrowtooth flounder and Pacific halibut has limited the growth of Pacific

halibut stocks.

Another master's student, Casey McConnell, is doing research funded by the Ladd Macaulay Graduate Fellowship in salmon Fisheries Research into the ecological causes and consequences of straying by examining evidence for stress and competition on the spawning grounds between wild and hatchery produced chum salmon.

The objective of McConnell's research are threefold. The first is to explain the incidence of hatchery straying by analyzing environmental and anthropogenic factors associated with development during imprinting, and hatchery release methods. The second is to differential stresses associated with correctly homing wild origin and straying hatchery origin salmon through blood cortisol concentrations. The third objective is explain resource competition on the spawning grounds between hatchery and wild origin chum by analyzing dissolved oxygen concentrations and spawner density.

(LEFT) During a 2003 project to develop a predictive model of herring spawning timing, Gordon Kruse, chairman of the Department of Fisheries, observed herring spawning on a beach on Summit Island off Togiak. Photo by Naoki Togo, CFOS. (RIGHT) Former master's student Naoki Tojo observed herring spawning on a beach on Summit Island off Togiak. Tojo is now an assistant professor of fisheries at Hokkaido University in Japan. Photo by Gordon Kruse, CFOS.

The college today includes the Lena Point Fisheries Facility in Juneau, an alliance with the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward for research on marine fish, birds and mammals, and major enhancements of the fisheries undergraduate program that include support for distance teaching through high-bandwidth audio-video systems throughout CFOS.

Since 1987, more than 650 students have earned undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees from CFOS who have gone on to careers in fisheries.

Given the state's current fiscal situation, the CFOS faculty is aware of the possibility of some programs being cut, but so far, said Kruse and Sutton, CFOS is holding its own. Theirs is one of the most productive units at the university, and CFOS is continuing to deliver the science that is contributing to sustainable fisheries management, an important contributor to the state's economy.

Fisheries, as Sutton noted, is wide and diverse and statewide. "There is a lot of interest in it, recreational, commercial, personal use. Everyone has a stake in it," he said. "We produce over 60 percent of the nation's fish.

"It's a tourist destination (for sport fishing). There is subsistence fishing, cultural significance. Fisheries is a big deal in Alaska," he said.


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