Fish tech program has in-state focus

  • By MEGAN PETERSEN
  • Sunday, December 21, 2014 8:57pm
  • News

KETCHIKAN (AP) — More than half a dozen fish-centric University of Alaska community campuses around the state are educating an upcoming generation of fisheries technology professionals with the University of Alaska Southeast’s fisheries technology program.

Barbara Morgan, the program’s student support and community outreach coordinator for the Ketchikan campus, recently hosted an informational meeting for prospective students.

UAS’ fisheries technology program is designed to enable Alaska residents already involved in fisheries to enter the industry around the state, Morgan said. The program stresses the importance of retaining and building a local source of fisheries professionals.

“It’s important for the state of Alaska to be fulfilling that need (for fish tech professionals) instead of out-of-state schools. I want to see us doing that,” Morgan said. “There’s really no reason we can’t be doing this ourselves rather than relying on out-of-state sources.”

Students in the program can earn a two-year associate’s degree, a one-year certification focused on fish culture or fisheries management, or an occupational endorsement, which can be earned in as little as 14 weeks, according to Morgan.

Students can also go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in fisheries from the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences — the only degree program of its type in North America, according to a UAF press release.

Morgan said the UAS fish-tech program consists of mostly online curriculum, though students are required to participate in labs at regional UAS campuses.

Flexibility is essential to the program’s and students’ success, Morgan said. Because all the fisheries technology courses are online, students can arrange to start and finish courses on a non-traditional timeline.

“A lot of the people who are working in this field already (and) that are wanting to get more education so they can advance in the field are working seasonal jobs, and frequently in remote locations with sketchy or no internet, so we’re trying to make it possible for as many people as possible to get into the program and get the classwork done,” Morgan said.

The program was established about 10 years ago in Ketchikan in response to industry requests, Morgan said. Gary Freitag, UAF Marine Advisory Program agent in Ketchikan, was one of the initiators of the program with the goal of addressing the “graying” of the existing workforce.

“What was happening was everyone was retiring from (the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and other fisheries industry jobs), so they needed people that could go into the field and understand what’s going on with the fisheries in this region,” he said, adding, “what we originally started with was looking for hatchery workers. It was primarily a jobs program to help get all that together and give them a science background, a hatchery background, a fisheries background and an understanding of how it works and how fisheries are balanced in this region — that’s what the whole object was.”

In recent years, the program has added courses, like fundamental of fisheries oceanography and introduction to fisheries of Alaska. One of the unique aspects of the program is its local focus — not only on the statewide industry, but on regional industries as well.

Though the courses are based out of Sitka — where the lectures are recorded and the professors operate — partner campuses included Bethel, Dillingham, Homer, Ketchikan, Kodiak and Valdez.

“It’s important for the fisheries industry in Alaska to be having an Alaska focus to our classwork because Alaska is like no place else. If we have instructors here in Alaska providing instruction for our own workers, we can tailor our classwork to what’s really happening in Alaska,” Morgan said.

Jess Davila, a fisheries biologist for the Ketchikan Ranger District who received an associate’s degree in fisheries technology from UAS in 2011, said keeping residents involved is key to the success of the fisheries industry.

“Young Alaskans are important to keeping Alaskan fisheries healthy,” Davila said. “Education is an important tool necessary for building knowledge, but nothing can replace years of observing and participating in our fisheries. Trends become solid in statistics, but noticing change comes from living here and having conversations.”

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