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Dean's monthly updates

March 2009

My report for March is coming out later than normal. I thought it would be prudent to spend the time preparing my income tax before I took the time to chronicle the events of March. I hope that all of you have completed your taxes by the time you read this.

In preparation for the SFOS Advisory Council to be held in April, UAF Interim Chancellor Brian Rogers appointed two new members to the council, Margaret Williams and Ian Dutton. Ms. Williams is the Director of the Bering Sea Field Office of the World Wildlife Fund and Dr. Dutton is the President and CEO of the Alaska SeaLife Center. Their appointment recognizes the marine conservation mission of SFOS and will help strengthen our relationship with the Alaska SeaLife Center. Dr. Dutton also has credentials in the environmental community, having worked for the Nature Conservancy from 2001 to 2008. Both Ms. Williams and Dr. Dutton are from Anchorage. Jay Stinson also joined the Advisory Council this year. Mr. Stinson is the Chair of the Fishery Industrial Technology Center (FITC) Policy Board and serves in that capacity as an ex-officio member of the council. Mr. Stinson owns Pelagic Resources, Inc. in Kodiak.

The North Pacific Research Board (NPRB) met in Anchorage March 2-3 and I attended as I hold the Academic Seat, appointed by Governor Palin. This was the first meeting attended by Dr. Ian Dutton, President and CEO of the Alaska SeaLife Center. Dr. Dutton is one of the five voting members of the board. The NPRB considered the pre-proposals for the Gulf of Alaska Integrated Ecosystem Research Program and picked five for full proposals. The good news from this meeting was that the NPRB will select one of these upper trophic level proposals for funding before asking for proposals for the lower trophic level components. I made the motion to do this and I believe it is only the second motion that I have proposed with success in my four years on the NPRB. In discussing the motion, Dr. Dutton described it as "brilliant" and I was pleased that the board took this action that will provide some order to this RFP process. His description about my NPRB motion had nothing to do with the Chancellor asking him to serve on the SFOS Advisory Council.

I returned to Fairbanks on the afternoon of March 3 in order to catch the red-eye flight to Washington, D.C., at 1:25 a.m. on March 4. I spent March 4-6 there to participate in the Ocean Leadership Public Policy Forum on March 5 which was held in the new Capitol Hill Visitor's Center. The morning of the forum, Senator Mark Begich was holding a constituent meeting just down the hall. I had an opportunity to speak to a few of his staff and to personally thank Senator Begich for his support for the economic stimulus bill that included the final funding for the Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV). At the forum we heard from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Representative Brian Baird (D-WA), both of whom are strong supporters of ocean issues. A feeling of optimism about the future of science funding was obvious throughout the halls of Congress and I believe that there is truly an opportunity to "return science to its rightful place" as President Obama stated in his inaugural address. Representative Baird talked about how this session was going to be successful by stating that the four sweetest words were not, "I love you honey," but, "We have the votes." We are already seeing the effect of the changes in leadership in Washington and voting. On March 25, Molly McCammon, Executive Director of the Alaska Ocean Observing System (AOOS), reported, "Legislation formally authorizing the Integrated Ocean Observing System (of which AOOS is a part) passed the House today as part of the Public Lands Omnibus Bill, and is on its way to President Obama for signature. We started this effort 8 years ago!" My guess is that the number 8 is a significant number for many reasons.

While in D.C. on the morning of March 6, I had breakfast with Heather McCarty, Vice Chair of the SFOS Advisory Council, a later meeting with David Policansky, Chair of the SFOS Advisory Council, to discuss the agenda for our April meeting and also had the opportunity meet staff members from the Alaska delegation. UA Federal Affairs Director Martha Stewart and I spent an hour with Bob King, Senator Begich's staff member on commerce issues, Arne Fuglvog, Senator Murkowski's staff member on fisheries issues, and Jeremy Price, Congressman Young's staff member on ocean and fisheries issues. We provided them an update on the ARRV and discussed issues related to our NOAA National Undersea Research Center (NURP) and funding problems within NOAA for the Kasitsna Bay Laboratory that SFOS co-manages with the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Sciences (NCCOS). The Kasitsna Bay Laboratory is the only NCCOS laboratory not on the U.S. East Coast and its funding is in jeopardy. In the afternoon, Nina Young, Deputy Director for Policy and External Affairs for Ocean Leadership, and I visited with Julia Hathaway, Legislative Staff for Oceans and Wildlife for the House Committee on Natural Resources. I gave her an update on the ARRV and found that she was interested in illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fisheries and marine mammals as indicators of ocean health. It was a typical day for a D.C. visit.

The Rasmuson Fisheries Research Center Advisory Board met in Anchorage on the morning of March 18. The Center was started in 1994 with a generous gift from Elmer Rasmuson and provides graduate fellowships for SFOS students. I serve as the director and Ed Rasmuson is Chairman of the Advisory Board. The board heard presentations from graduate students Jennifer Marsh (M.S., Fisheries), Terril Efird (M.S., Marine Biology), Patrick Lane (M.S., Marine Biology), Megan Murphy (M.S., Oceanography), and Ashwin Sreenivasan (Ph.D., Fisheries). After five excellent presentations, the students and the board enjoyed a lunch outside the Wells Fargo Board room. That afternoon, the Rasmuson Fisheries Excellence Committee met to review the progress on the UAF SFOS $5.0 million grant from the Rasmuson Foundation, "Charting a new course for fisheries undergraduates in Alaska." The committee was co-appointed by UA President Mark Hamilton and Ed Rasmuson, Chairman of the Board of the Rasmuson Foundation. The committee, which includes UAF Interim Chancellor Brian Rogers and UAS Chancellor John Pugh, received a status report from SFOS undergraduate fisheries coordinator Trent Sutton. I provided an update on student recruiting and retention activities. We now have 41 undergraduate fisheries students, compared to 17 a few years ago, including 10 Alaska Natives. With 22 new applicants for the 2009-2010 academic year, we anticipate having over 50 students in the program in the fall.

Our efforts to construct the Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV) for the ocean science community accelerated this month. The final funds for the vessel were included in the economic stimulus funding approved by Congress. In Alaska, for the university to accept federal funds, the legislature must provide the university with "receipt authority." Thus the House and Senate finance committees considered the university budget including the ARRV receipt authority this month. On March 23 and 24, I participated by teleconference in the finance committee meetings along with Michelle Rizk, UA Associate Vice President for Budget. We were questioned about whether the funds were an earmark (they are not), whether the ARRV will meet the same discharge requirements as the cruise industry must in Alaska (it will), and whether the state would be obligated to pay the operating cost of the vessel (no). One of the concerns expressed by the Governor is about strings attached to the stimulus funding. The string attached to the ARRV funding is that if we accept the funds we have to build a ship - something we are looking forward to doing. On March 19, UAF procurement issued the request for proposals for construction of the ARRV with shipyard proposals due on May 14.

The other ARRV news this month was the announcement on March 31 that the National Science Board (NSB) had approved the final design review and given NSF the green light to move forward. This action was anticipated at their May meeting, but the NSB accelerated the schedule and gave final approval during a special meeting by teleconference. The statement "The Board authorized the NSF Director, at his discretion, to make awards to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks for the construction of the Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV)" generated an e-mail titled "Whoo-Hoo!" from lead ARRV PI Terry Whitledge. Our ARRV team headed by Seward Marine Center director Dan Oliver has done a fantastic job moving the ARRV forward. One comment from the NSB was that this was the best presentation of a project they had seen in a long time. It was a proud day for UAF.