Chances are you’ve heard the saying, the great thing about Anchorage is that its only 15 minutes from the real Alaska. If you don’t live in the state’s largest city, maybe you agree. Then there’s the other question: how long do you have to live here before you’re an Alaskan? Are you an Alaskan if you spend only summers here? Is it when you get your first PFD? Is it a length of time, or a state of mind?
A recent art show at Out North gallery in Anchorage is called “native alaskan.” Not Alaska Native, as in coming from one of Alaska’s indigenous groups, but native Alaskan, as in Alaska is the place where you were born, or the place something came into being.
Show curator Michael Walsh thinks the question of just how long you have to be here to be a native Alaskan is worthy of some discussion: for his show, he picked artists who were born in Alaska or moved here at a very young age.
“It’s not at all about the people who wish they were Alaskan, like myself, because I can’t own it, I’m not from here,” Walsh said.
Brandie Hofmeister and Matt Rafferty aren’t from there either: they came to Alaska 13 or so years ago as young adults. But both now consider Alaska their permanent home; unlike Walsh, they think of themselves as Alaskans.
“I actually heard it said once that a lot of people are Alaskan and they just don’t know it until they get here,” Rafferty said. “And I totally felt that way. I was inspired from day one.”
And Brandie says, at some point, her family stopped asking when she was going to leave:
“I think they people realized after a couple of years that I had found something that really worked for me,” Hofmeister said.
Both Matt and Brandie say they’ve found longer-term Alaskans welcoming to newcomers – happy to teach them how to process fish, or hunt for caribou. Not all hung up on that “how long have you lived here” question, but Matt says he has encountered that other prejudice.
“Most people look down their nose at the fact that you live in Anchorage, and feel like you don’t live in Alaska because you live here, but I fill my freezer with moose and salmon, and I’ve been charged by a bear within the municipality,” Rafferty said. “I feel pretty connected to Alaska. But I feel like there’s that tension with anyone who lives somewhere other than Anchorage.”
And what if you’ve never seen a bear, or you fill your freezer from Costco, not the wild? Matt admits he felt more Alaskan when he’d traveled more around the state; Brandie agrees.
“I’m lucky enough to have gotten a job that traveled all over the state, so I traveled all over the state of Alaska and really got a feel for those rural communities, and the regional centers and the great urban center of Anchorage and how that plays into different communities,” Hofmeister said. “I think after I got such familiarity with the state, that’s when I started feeling more like this was home.”
Even so, it was in Anchorage that Matt learned some Inupiaq, while temping at NANA – the regional Native corporation for Northwest Alaska, which, like many Native corps, is headquartered in Anchorage. And perhaps that whole Los Anchorage idea is outdated, with more and more rural residents living, at least for a while, in urban Alaska.
Yaari Kingeekuk is from the village of Savoonga and now lives Anchorage. She works as a “cultural educator” who has written and spoken about balancing her rural and urban life. Yaari has developed relationships and cultural connections in urban Alaska that are as significant as the ones from home.
“There’s a Native elderly man that lives upstairs from us and for a long time I didn’t visit, I didn’t go and introduce myself. But one day I decided to stop by and knocked on the door. And I come in and I told him who I was and asked him if he enjoyed Native food. When I asked him if he loved Native food, he just…his whole attitude and behavior changed. He was calm and had a warm smile on his face. And he started to tell me the things he likes to eat and I told him I would share Native food with him. And then he went on telling me stories about long ago,” Kingeekuk said.
Elizabeth Medicine Crow of the First Alaskans Institute reminds us that even Alaska’s urban cities are overlaid on the original homelands of Alaska Natives.
“The people who live there, the people who come there for opportunities for themselves or their families, that is a part of our story. And it makes us very unique. Because, I think that’s actually one of the most under-developed aspects of relationship in Alaska society is a true understanding of how connected the Native people really are to this place, and what it really means to us and we move back and forth from urban areas to our hubs to our villages and then back again, and we do have it over generations now,” she said.
Medicine Crows says with all that moving – whether forced by boarding school, or voluntary, Natives relationship with their land and culture has had to evolve.
So maybe being Alaska Native, or native Alaskan, isn’t tied to one specific spot – whether your ancestors have been here for generations, or you are first generation. Maybe it’s when your strongest connections are based in the state – whether to land or other people, or both.
Michael Walsh’s show “native alaskan” is up at the Out North Gallery in Anchorage through May 12.
Listen for a longer interview with Michael Walsh.
Bethel Regional High School graduate, Natalie Hanson, is now the American powerlifting record holder in three of the sport’s biggest events. At 23-years old, Hanson set the official record for bench press, squat and total weight lifted for her age group and size. As of now, no one in the USA under 23-years old weighing under 75 kilos has ever officially lifted as much weight as she has.
“I’m in shock,” says Hanson about her record breaking performance, “it still doesn’t feel like that.”
Hanson broke the records at the Alaska State Championships for Power Lifting held in Anchorage, an event sanctioned by the USA powerlifting.
Hanson set the records in the Junior Division for ages 20 – 23.
She smashed the US squat record by 18 pounds after squatting 297 pounds. She also pushed past the bench press record by 5 pounds with a 197 pound press.
Those weights are added to her dead lift to give a total weight. Added together, Hanson lifted 827 pounds, 27 pounds more than the previous record.
Making it more unbelievable is the fact that Hanson didn’t even train for the events. She’s instead been training for cross-fit competitions, which focuses on a broader range of strength and flexibility. Hanson says a friend noticed her natural abilities could put her in immediate contention for the national records.
Hanson was born and raised in Bethel but now lives in Anchorage. She’s the daughter or Rick and Kathy Hanson.
Hanson will move onto the USA Powerlifting National Competition in Florida on July 20.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a revised assessment today on the Bristol Bay watershed. The report says building the Pebble Mine near the headwaters of a world-class salmon fishery could wipe out as many as 90 miles of streams and alter stream flows. EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran said the document generally affirms conclusions reached in the initial report last year.
Alaska’s National Weather Service workforce is facing a political storm on two fronts. While sequestration has frozen hire on vacant positions, an upcoming furlough will further reduce staff in offices already barely able to cover the workload.
An Ester man is facing charges for killing a moose in his yard. Alaska State Troopers report that Michael Baldwin shot the animal in January to protect his dog, but never reported the incident, and left the moose carcass to rot.
Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters says Baldwin’s actions violate a state law that allows shooting of animals to protect life and property.
“If you shoot an animal and you do it because you’re defending your life and property, there are requirements of reporting the shooting,” Peters said. “There’s also a responsibility of the person who shot the animal to salvage the meat.”
“Anytime you shoot an animal and you just leave edible meat to rot, that’s gonna be a want and waste charge, and hunters take that very seriously.”
Baldwin is charged with wanton waste of game meat, taking a moose during closed season, unlawful possession of game, and hunting without a valid license.
Wall panels formerly manufactured in China will be produced in Fairbanks. Fairbanks based Bucher Glass has invested in machinery and employees to fabricate curtain walls used to façade buildings. The company has installed wall skins imported from China on many large buildings both outside and in Alaska, including the new Tanana Chief’s Health clinic in Fairbanks.
Bucher Glass Treasurer Kevin Zayas says new federal tariffs on curtain walls from China forced his company to make a decision.
“We can probably get a much bigger profit margin if we were to go to Mexico now, and get curtain wall,” Zayas said. “We could do that, but we decided not to, wanna keep it in state and we wanna contribute as best as we can to the economy.”
Zayas says the company has invested about $600,000 in manufacturing equipment and worked with a local union to develop a workforce.
Zayas says the local manufacture of curtain walls is providing 15 to 20 new jobs.
When the Tustumena ferry went in for repairs this winter, it was supposed to be fixed up in time for the 2013 season, but the ferry is still nowhere near ready. Now, the state has been forced to cancel service to Western Alaska for the entire month of June.
The Tustumena’s capital repairs were extensive, but pretty straightforward –fix the ship’s hull, and a lot of its machinery.
The work was supposed to be done before the 2013 season started, in April. But when the contractor, Seward Ship’s Drydock, found new problems with the Tusty’s steelwork and tanks, the state granted the workers an extension.
In the meantime, the state assigned the Kennicott ferry to cover the Tustumena’s route in April and May.
By this time, work on the Tustumena should be winding down — but deputy transportation commissioner Reuben Yost says it’s running even further behind.
“We’ve been monitoring that progress and now our best guess is that work actually won’t actually be completed until July,” Yost said.
The Tustumena won’t be ready to sail again until July 4, at the earliest.
The Kennicott can’t pick up the slack – it has to return to its regular service between Bellingham, Washington and Southcentral Alaska.
Yost says the state has no option but to cancel the Tustumena’s two sailings in June. Five-hundred-sixty-seven passengers had reserved seats on those trips.
They will automatically be rebooked to the Kennicott’s last sailing through Western Alaska, in late May. The ferry system was planning to call those customers over the weekend to confirm the change, and offer refunds to anyone who wants to cancel.
But Yost, the DOT commissioner, says that’s no substitute for the Tustumena.
“Even when we do provide a Kennicott run, there are ports that the Kennicott can’t get into,” Yost said.
Those include Chignik, False Pass, and Sand Point. Those communities will go a full four months without ferry service.
Yost says that the state realizes how that might inconvenience travelers.
“We’re very upset about this,” Yost said. “We realize this is a major transportation problem for people, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure the work occurs as quickly as possible.”
“But, the work is being performed by a contractor rather than AMHS staff.”
Seward’s Ship Drydock is the contractor that’s working on the Tustumena. They weren’t available to comment.
According to their contract with the DOT, the state can seek damages for any unauthorized delays. Yost says they aren’t ruling that out.
An Anchorage-based co-op is raising money to begin after-school training that combines ancient techniques of qayak design with education.
Kayaks were invented by people of the north. Unangan, Supiat, Yup’ik, Inupiaq, and Inuit hunters used them to hunt seals and other marine mammals.
Co-founder David Karabelnikoff says the Qayaq Co-op was inspired by a movement in Southeast Alaska to revitalize canoe building and paddling, with the goal of encouraging youth to learn science, technology, engineering, and math.
“We’re blending the revitalization of traditional qayaq, and ikiak, and umiaq building with the modern technology of maker space, digital fabrication,” Karabelnikoff said. “So, that would look like LED scanners, laser scanners, laser cutters, CNC machines, 3-D printers and things of those type.”
Traditionally, every aspect of the qayaq was fitted to the owner’s body to make a watertight, stable yet maneuverable boat they could use in stormy Arctic waters. Karabelnikoff says the qayaq coop will replicate those techniques to manufacture custom-fitted kayaks. He says the project will preserve kayak design techniques and communicate the role of qayaqs in traditional life.
“It’s really something that both Alaska Natives can understand and get inspired by, but also that non-Native and folks that around the world will understand what we’re trying to do and the deep significance of the qayaq into the Inuit life, and what this cultural revitalization means for our people, and not just us but also for them,” Karabelnikoff said.
In Juneau on Tuesday, canoes were launched for an 8-day trip to Wrangell for the rededication of the Chief Shakes Clan House there. Karabelnikoff says the co-op’s project will teach youth how to create, build and paddle their own qayaq, and he’d like to see qayaq trips, races, and other activities become part of modern life – all with the goal of setting at-risk youth on a healthy path.
“I hope this project will help to solve the suicide epidemic that we have in the Alaska Native community and that Alaska Natives will be looked at in a positive light for the things that we have contributed to humanity, and the qayaq being one of those technological marvels that few other, and other people in the Arctic have developed but is really something that we can claim as our own and claim as something that makes us feel good, and the larger community respect our abilities and capabilities for what we’ve done,” Karabelnikoff said.
The co-op spells qayaq with q’s instead of k’s. It’s using the internet fundraising site, Kickstarter.com to launch the project.
This week, we’re going to Thorne Bay, a community on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast. Dana Allison is a receptionist at Thorne Bay City Hall.
The Wasilla based indie-folk band already has a small group of devoted fans. Now, with the new CD they are reaching more listeners in zip-codes across the nation.
Imagine an evening sitting in your living room with dim yellow lights, indie-folk music floating throughout the room. You and your friends are sipping some Kaladi coffee. This is what four-piece, teen-band Gerygone & Twig created at the First Presbyterian Church of Wasilla for their CD release show a few weeks ago. Not to mention, they brought a cake shaped like a banjo.
The band met through friends and during choir at Colony High School in Palmer. Member Rainy Hastings explains how they chose the name Gerygone & Twig.
“Well, a Gerygone is an Australian songbird whose name translates to ‘born of sound’ and twig is also a verb which means to understand especially using your eyes,” Rainy Hastings said, explaining how the group came up with its name. “I think it’s a good metaphor for our style, the way we like to incorporate words that people don’t know and how all of our lyrics have a way deeper meaning than what they sound like they mean.”
From band bios to concert posters and their music, the group has a poetic, folksy style.
The bands primary instruments are guitar, banjo, violin and upright bass, and they often take turns playing them.
“Another signature part of our band is that we are pretty rich in harmonies, we sing together a lot,” Hastings said.
The groups influences are Sufjan Stevens, Fleet Foxes and Andrew Bird.
But the group was inspired by Alaska musician Marian Call, who also completed a successful Kickstarter campaign. She raised over $63,000 for her trip to Europe to tour and record a live album. Taking the lead from Call, Kari and her band set out with a smaller goal of raising enough money to record on their own in the Valley.
“We were like, we can do that! And so, we spent a long time making a stop-motion,” Kari said. “We made 1800 dollars to cover cost of the Slee-py.”
When the funds were raised, Gerygone & Twig purchased a small ProTools work station and recorded everything using just one microphone. Member Alex Lindgren says, friends with experience recording helped show them the ropes.
“We learned a lot in the process of doing this, then came the technical things like mixing and mastering,” Lindgren said.
Band member Grace Kari is happy with how the CD turned out
“The results were exceptional and way beyond our expectations,” she said.
She’s not quite 5 feet tall. Very soft spoken and one of the sweetest girls you can meet. From St. Lawrence Island in the middle of the Bering Sea, she’s a fierce competitor and has the Bering Strait region proud. Apaay Campbell from Gambell broke a world record Thursday at the Native Youth Olympics in Anchorage.
That’s right. The Bering Strait School District has a world record holder athlete.
The 16-year-old from Gambell shattered the girls’ world kneel jump record by nearly 2 inches. Her final jump at the State Native Youth Olympics in Anchorage hit 55 and a quarter inches, breaking the 20-year-old world record set by Eleanor Matthais at the 1993 NYO Games.
Kneel jump competitors get three chances – or jumps – in competition. Apaay hit 50 inches in her first jump, 53 inches in her second jump and beat the world record in her third jump.
It turns out, Apaay takes after her mother. Sharon Campbell Aningayou was herself the 1994 state gold medalist in the kneel jump. She says she couldn’t stop smiling all day on Thursday after learning her daughter now holds the record in her event. Apaay beat the record set her mother’s high school competitor
Apaay says before arriving in Anchorage, she didn’t think she could beat the NYO record. But her mother – who is also her coach – knew she could.
And her best has her named as the world record holder in the kneel jump. Apaay says in her third and final jump, she had a huge adrenaline rush. She had just hit 53 inches in her second jump – a half an inch away from the world record. She knew then she could jump farther. And she did. Apaay is in 10th grade and still has two more years to compete in the Native Youth Olympics.
Nick Hanson – one of Apaay’s former state coaches says this is Apaay’s 4th gold medal in the kneel jump and people stop to watch her in competition. He says it’s powerful watching Apaay compete at the games.
The 2013 State NYO games continue Saturday in Anchorage.
Southeast’s Inter-Island Ferry Authority will soon be short on cash. The authority sails between Prince of Wales Island and Ketchikan.
Officials say what’s known as the IFA has only about four-fifths of the money it needs for the next budget year, which begins in July.
General Manager Dennis Watson says that’s because the authority did not get an appropriation from the Legislature.
“Generally, in one form or another, we get some assistance from them every year. It’s a very important part of our operation. But the request was not granted. So it left us short and we are scrambling right now to try to identify alternative funding sources,” he says.
The Hollis-based IFA ferry Stikine sails daily, year-round, except for some holidays. It’s a nonprofit operation separate from the Alaska Marine Highway System. (Read more about the IFA.)
Watson, who is also mayor of Craig, says the authority looked at dropping one of its two crews and reducing service to four days a week.
But it’s locked into personnel costs it would still have to pay. And dropping sailings would lower revenue and hurt Prince of Wales communities dependent on the ferry.
“We have people who actually have businesses that are built around us operating. We have a large fish-receiving plant out here in Craig and they use our service 100 percent. And if we don’t operate seven days a week, there are a lot of people who suffer because of it,” he says.
Watson says running the system costs about $4 million a year. Three-quarters of that comes from passenger and vehicle fares. The federal government also chips in.
That leaves a three-quarter-million-dollar gap, which the Legislature usually fills.
“We are working with the staff of the federal delegation to see if we can identify federal sources to help us with this,” he says.
Watson says raising rates won’t work either. Past experience shows ridership drops when ticket prices are much higher than they are now.
The Inter-Island Ferry Authority has a second ship, the Prince of Wales, which is tied up except for when the Stikine is in for maintenance.
Officials have considered selling it, to raise some revenue and cut docking and insurance costs.
But Watson says it’s needed as a backup vessel in times of emergency.
“Last year we swallowed two valves in one of our main (engines) in our primary vessel. And by that evening we had them swapped out and the people who were waiting in town, we got them over to Prince of Wales. Had we not had that vessel, things like that would have not been able to happen,” he says.
The IFA bought a second ship to sail a northern route between Coffman Cove, Wrangell and Petersburg. But ridership was low, and the sailings were dropped. The separate North End Ferry Authority plans to resurrect that route soon.
Meanwhile, there’s no threat of an immediate shutdown, because the IFA has financial reserves that can take it through early next year. But draining those would leave the system vulnerable to future shortfalls.
First established to help Alaskans get mortgages, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation now has responsibility for a natural gas pipeline, and it may soon be in charge of a bridge. The next Talk of Alaska is your chance to talk to the man the Legislature trusts to handle all this, Dan Fauske, the Executive Director of the AHFC.
HOST: Steve Heimel
- Dan Fauske, executive director, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation
- Callers Statewide
- Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
- Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
- Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast
LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
A Kodiak-based Coast Guard helicopter crew hoisted a 52-year-old man from the fishing vessel Katie Ann yesterday afternoon. He was reportedly suffering from symptoms of internal bleeding.
The MH-65 Dolphin took him to Cold Bay, about 110-miles to the southeast, and transferred him to a commercial life flight bound for Anchorage.
The Air Station Kodiak helicopter is currently attached to the Honolulu-based cutter Rush, which is patrolling the Bering Sea.
The latest Sealaska land conveyance bill had its first public showing in Congress on Thursday.
The public lands panel of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard from two federal agencies about transferring 70,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest to the Sealaska Corporation.
While the bill’s supporters are optimistic it will pass, there are still a couple of major hurdles.
Every regional corporation formed by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act is entitled to land. Sealaska is the lone corporation yet to finalize its land transfer.
The corporation is entitled to about seventy thousand more acres. Problem is, it’s been difficult finding agreement on where the remaining land should come from.
“Nearly every acre, I would venture that every acre of the 16.9 million acre Tongass, is precious to someone,” Senator Lisa Murkowski said.
She says there have been more than 175 revisions to the land transfer bill since it was first introduced more than five years ago. The bill would amendment ANCSA.
Murkowski, who spent part of her childhood in Ketchikan, calls this version the most fair to all involved.
Not everyone will be satisfied. Some environmental groups worry this legislation would set a precedent that would allow other Native corporations to choose new land.
Sealaska selected its acreage, but it wants to pick different sites with more valuable timber prospects. Officials also say they dropped some selections because they were too environmentally sensitive.
Jim Pena is the associate deputy chief of the National Forest System.
“We believe the circumstances around this bill are unique, and no such precedent would be created,” Pena said.
And as Pena said this, a satisfied Murkowski nodded in agreement.
“We went around and contacted all the Native corporation heads, gained assurance that they understood the unique situation that Sealaska faces, and that they do not consider this some kind of precedent,” Pena said.
So that issue should be cut and dry. But it’s not.
Sitting at the table next Pena was Jamie Connell, from the Bureau of Land Management. Both the BLM and Forest Service have stake in the Tongass.
“We can’t give an absolute on some of the issues that were brought up; an absolute that another corporation wouldn’t come in and ask for similar treatment,” Connell said.
Even though Connell hedges, BLM is closer to certainty than it’s been before.
There’s still one major issue though. What kind of trees Sealaska will be able to cut.
The Forest Service worries that the land conveyance will affect the transition from old-growth harvest to new growth.
Murkowski styles the transition as a lifeline to the struggling timber industry.
“These existing timber businesses need some time. They need sufficient timber. And they need economic certainty in order to survive and to have any chance of this transition succeeding,” Murkowski said.
She says she’s willing to compromise on the issue. The Forest Service says the transition is a 10-15 year process. But most new growth is far more decades away from being ready to harvest.
Some conservationists welcomed the changes to this version, such as Joe Mehrkens.
“There are improvements,” Mehrkens said. “The first versions were absolute wish lists for Sealaska.”
Mehrkens, a retired Forest Service employee, sits on the board of the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community.
He says this plan saves prime land on Prince of Wales Island, but it’s still too degrading to the environment to support.
Chris McNeil is the president of Sealaska. He says the company met with every interested stakeholder.
Nine small communities on or near Prince of Wales Island oppose the transfer. McNeil dismisses them saying most of Southeast supports the transfer.
“Naturally you can’t have 100 percent of the constituency in favor of it. They’ve taken a position. But we’ve worked all the parties nonetheless,” he said.
McNeil says he’s optimistic this version can pass because it’s been tweaked to try and meet everyone’s needs.
The previous version stalled in the Senate last year. A similar measure passed the House, but went no further.
There is one indication a public lands bill could move this Congress: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid testified before the committee. He needs Senate action on a Nevada lands bill.
And Reid controls the legislative calendar of the chamber.
Next year’s election season is already heating up, with Republican Bill Walker announcing today that he will again run for Governor, as he did in 2010.
The Alaska Supreme Court has issued a ruling that could lead to a new trial for one of the Fairbanks Four. The high court turned down a state appeal of a decision allowing Eugene Vent a hearing to argue his attorney did not adequately represent him during his murder trial. Vent and three other local men are serving multi decade prison sentences for the 1997 beating death of Fairbanks teenager John Hartman on a downtown street.
Despite the lingering effects of winter, spring whaling has begun in Arctic Alaska and seal hunters are also heading to the coast from Chevak in the Southwest part of the state. Grace Levettte with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission in Barrow confirmed today that whaling crews on St Lawrence Island have landed a total of three bowheads so far – two for Gambell and one for Savoonga.
Farther south on the mainland, seal hunters from the Cu’pik community of Chevak are hauling their boats to the coast for spring seal hunts. John Atchak lives in Chevak and is a long time hunter. He’s been watching hunters head to favorite coastal spots toward Hopper Bay and Nelson Island.
He says harbor, spotted and bearded seals are an important part of Cu’pik dinners.
“That’s our mainstay diet in our area and it provides a lot of iron for our bodies, required iron, and it’s a real healthy food,” Atchak said.
Atchak says local hunters haul their boats behind snowmachines on homemade wooden sleds, traveling from eight to 30 miles. He says crews with at least 10 boats have left over the past two days. Sometime in May, when they see the right signs, they will hunt belugas.
“When the herring arrive, that’s when the beluga arrive, along with the fish,” Atchak said.
Atchak says they will hunt until mid May.
There are more questions than answers about the problems facing fisheries in Cook Inlet. And scientists working on those problems are chronically short on time and funding. But a new fisheries program at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage has students tackling some important research questions. And it isn’t just graduate students doing the work, undergrads are getting their feet wet doing real science too.
In a cave-like basement room on the APU campus Sarah Webster is grinding dried halibut tissue. Her high tech tool for the job? A mortar and pestle:
“I’m starting to get some really nice calluses on my hand. The first couple days were really painful.”
Webster is discovering the gritty realities of graduate student lab work at APU. She’s studying why pacific halibut are getting smaller. When she’s done grinding the tissue samples, she’ll send them off to a lab for high tech analysis that will tell her what the fish ate in the months before it died:
“Something has changed so halibut aren’t growing as quickly and because growth is related to how much nutrition and how much food you intake, it makes sense that would be what the mechanism is.”
A 15 year old halibut today is half the size it was 40 years ago. Webster’s halibut study is just one of more than a dozen fisheries research projects APU Professor Brad Harris is overseeing. He arrived at the university two years ago and has quickly turned the marine biology program into a research engine for fisheries in Alaska. It’s the only applied fisheries university program in Anchorage. Harris says it just makes sense:
“If we’re going to go out and do this work, we might as well work on something that matters and produce a product that’s useful.”
So Harris partners with federal and state biologists to find appropriate research projects. And he doesn’t leave all the fun stuff to his graduate students.
Undergraduates are helping with a Fish and Game razor clam study near Kenai. They gather halibut data in Homer in the summer. And this semester, he had them working to figure out why two scallop beds in Kamishak Bay have declined sharply in the last decade.
APU Junior Angela Wilkenson leads me into a storage room where 25 seafood freezer boxes are stacked, all full of scallop shells. That’s 12 thousand shells the Homer Fish and Game office sent to APU for analysis.
The students are trying to determine if an invasive worm has gotten more prevalent in the scallop shells as the population has declined. They figured out a way to use a camera and computers to analyze how much of each shell was infected with the worm. It was tedious work. But Wilkenson says they got the answer.
“As the scallop population has seemed to decrease the worm prevalence has seemed to increase.”
Does that mean the worms are causing the population decline? That will take more study. But Homer based Fish and Game biologist Ken Goldman says the data is fantastic. The Department doesn’t have enough biologists to tackle all the research projects that would help them do a better job managing the fisheries.
“I’m just a geeky scientist, but that’s the stuff that gets me excited. To make sure we can pursue that goal of sustainable fisheries and to foster responsible management, it takes data. Without data all opinions are equal. So data is what we need to make the right decisions as we move forward.”
And Professor Harris says coming up with that data helps his students understand what a career as a fisheries biologist is all about. They quickly figure out that it’s either not for them, or it is. And if it is- Harris’ teaching philosophy gives them full rein to start digging in deep:
“As soon as undergrad students understand what they really want to do, their courses have a new context. They see that this is something they need to get somewhere, versus an impediment they have to get over to get a degree. Getting the degree ceases to be the goal. Being a proficient scientist that can really contribute starts to become what they focus on. And that’s exciting to them.”
Harris says he has had no trouble attracting interesting research questions for his students to take on. He quickly found himself dealing with the opposite problem, having to say no to worthy projects. But there is always next year, with a whole new group of students ready to learn.
The Native Youth Olympics got underway Thursday in Anchorage. More than 600 student athletes are gathered at the city’s Dena’ina Convention Center for three days of competition in games that showcase Alaska Native traditions, skills and teamwork.