FRI trains the fishery managers of tomorrow

Jun 26, 2017

Grad students from three cooperating universities simulate managing the Bristol Bay salmon fishery as the run progresses.

FRI Grad students
Credit KDLG

Area management biologists in Bristol Bay are responsible for tracking and maintaining the escapement numbers of multiple salmon species in multiple river systems. Not only are they charged with preserving the health of the run’s biology, but they are often held, at least partly, accountable for the economic viability of the fishery as well. One of the inherent challenges of the job is that the sustainability of the salmon run is not always synonymous with the profit margins of industry entities, and the managers are often the first to be blamed when the catch and escapement don’t go as planned.

KDLG's Nick Ciolino has details:

The University of Washington’s Fisheries Research Institute is taking on the tall task of training those who hope to one day be fishery managers. Seven grad students—two from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, three from the University of Washington and two from Kamchatka State Technical Institute in Russia—are taking the three week course at FRI’s cabin on Aleknagik Lake.

Professors Milo Adkinson and Ray Holburn are teaching the course.  “We bring our graduate students in fisheries out to see a real fishery in action,” said Adkinson.

For the class’s main term project, the students will work directly with the three area management biologists in Bristol Bay as the salmon run is going on.  

“They get to pretend that they’re managing the fisheries,” said Adkinson. “So I’ve got a group of students that are going be deciding whether to open and close the Naknek-Kvichak district every day.”

The students will simulate making announcements relevant to the current salmon run, allocating when and where sport and commercial fisherman are allowed to fish. They will then be given a math equation which will determine the catch and escapement numbers based on the management decisions they made. The students will receive feedback from the actual area managers as the course progresses.

“We had one year where the students let several million fish escape into the Egegik system. I think the managers got a kick out of that,” said Adkinson.

Tim Sands is the area management biologist for the Nushagak and Togiak districts. He gave a lecture at FRI this week, and is making himself available to answer any questions the students charged with simulating his job might have.

“So there’s rules like what time of the tide you have to open the set nets—it’s all specified in the management plan. They can ask me questions like that, or things about allocation,” said Sands. “That’s what I do. Tell them the rules of the district.”

The students assembled in one of FRI’s cabins on Aleknagik Lake Thursday to introduce themselves and present a summary of their thesis work and research interests. The topics ranged from permit regulations, to how sockeye populations are affected by climate change, to the socio-economic implications of poorly run fisheries in other parts of the world. The students taking the class have a wide range of ambitions, but many are interested in careers in fishery management.

“A lot of them go on to become fisheries managers or research biologists with the department of fish and game or the National Marine Fisheries Service. We’re hoping that this class with its kind of hands-on approach makes them better managers,” said Adkinson.

The hands-on approach is meant to help students from various parts of the country, and the world, develop a better understanding of the rural communities directly affected by management decisions in the fishery—something they miss out on in exclusively theoretical classes.

“We all know the importance of subsistence. We all know the lack of economic opportunity in these rural communities,” said Adkinson, who grew up in Dillingham. “A lot of the students that are being trained to be fisheries managers and biologists are actually coming from places like Maine or Georgia and they have no concept of that, and seeing it firsthand will help them when they become the fisheries professionals.”

In addition to simulating fish and game management, the class will be doing field work on the lake and touring the fish processing centers in Dillingham. The class is scheduled to wrap up on July 10th.

Contact KDLG's fisheries reporter Nick Ciolino at or 907-842-5645