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University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences Science Master's Program
(SMP) in Sustainable Ecosystem-Based Management of Living Marine Resources (SELMR)

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Science Master's Program?
The Science Master's Program (SMP) is a National Science Foundation program developed to prepare graduate students for careers in business, industry, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies by providing them not only with a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, but also with research experiences, internship experiences, and the skills to succeed in those careers. Additional information about SMP can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=503428&org=DGE&from=home.  << FAQ

What is SELMR?
The Sustainable Ecosystem-Based Management of Living Marine Resources (SELMR) program is an interdisciplinary graduate program at the University of Alaska that uses case studies, courses, and seminars to teach the fundamental principles and analytical tools of fisheries science, oceanography, ecology, economics, management, marine policy, and anthropology to broadly train students in ecosystem-based approaches to the analysis and management of living marine resource systems. SELMR is closely associated with the Marine Ecosystem Sustainability in the Arctic and Subarctic (MESAS) program, an NSF-funded IGERT based at UAF. << FAQ

Why interdisciplinary?
Interdisciplinary research integrates multiple disciplines because the issues that surround most "real life" problems are multifaceted and complex. For example, policy decisions must be informed by science; social values and economics affect whether or not a solution is desirable or feasible. This program seeks to train researchers who will recognize cross-disciplinary issues and communicate with professionals from other disciplines to find creative interdisciplinary solutions for these problems. << FAQ

Who is eligible for the SELMR program?
All UAF graduate students are eligible to participate in the program; students can, however, participate at various levels. Applicants for the SELMR traineeship must be US citizens or permanent residents (in accordance with NSF guidelines) and must be seeking an MS degree. Other UAF graduate degree students (Masters or PhD) with alternative funding are welcome and encouraged to participate in the program. As all of the SELMR courses are open to graduate students, application to the program is not required in order to take individual classes. << FAQ

Who is eligible for the SMP traineeship?
Applicants for the SMP traineeship must be US citizens or permanent residents (in accordance with NSF guidelines) and must be seeking an MS degree. << FAQ

What criteria will be used to select among applicants for SMP traineeships?
Applicants should be aware that SELMR is a highly competitive program, and only a limited number of traineeships are available each year. Acceptance into a graduate program at UAF is required as well as the support of a UAF faculty member. In addition, consideration will be given to previous academic and research experience, and an understanding of and commitment to the interdisciplinary nature of the program. Applications are reviewed by a faculty committee. << FAQ

What is the monetary award of the SMP traineeship?
SMP trainees will be supported for two years with a $15,000 stipend plus tuition and health insurance. The graduate trainee and his/her mentor work together to secure research support and stipend for any additional years required for completing the MS. << FAQ

What obligations do SELMR trainees have to the program?
SELMR students are expected to participate in all SELMR program components. Depending on the stage of their studies, the intended commitment by students receiving any form of SELMR support generally consists of:

  1. taking all of the MESAS/SELMR courses [link here], including the 3-week integrative course in August of the year that the enter the program;
  2. participating in a research and stewardship internship;
  3. attending the MESAS/SELMR brown-bag professional development seminars, attending and presenting their research in the annual AFS student chapter symposium, attending and participating in the annual MESAS/SELMR forum;
  4. completing MS requirements for the degree which includes conducting original research.

It is also expected that each thesis advisory committee will include one suitably qualified outside (government, NGO, or other) professional. While not all components will exactly align with the students’ thesis research, they will enhance research skills, expand academic perspective and knowledge base, provide career training, and provide valuable learning experiences and contacts with faculty and students from other disciplines.  << FAQ

How many traineeships are awarded per year?
Approximately five students will be granted SMP traineeships through the SELMR program each year. Students who are not selected for the NSF-SMP traineeship are nevertheless encouraged to participate in MESAS/SELMR coursework, seminars and interdisciplinary research groups. << FAQ

What type of research is there for me to do?
Faculty members interested in taking on a SELMR student will vary from year to year. Check the FACULTY link on this website to determine who is accepting students and what research opportunities might be available. Examples of research themes are listed below. [Research themes] << FAQ

Where will I be doing my coursework and research?
First year students are required to spend their first year on campus, in either Juneau or Fairbanks, depending on where their advisor is based. MESAS/SELMR classes are offered at both locations. In subsequent years, the student’s location will be determined by the student, advisor, and the needs of the research project. << FAQ

Does SELMR grant degrees?
The SELMR SMP is a traineeship, not a degree-granting program. Degrees are granted through the department in which the student is enrolled as a master’s student. Students of the program can pursue graduate degrees in Fisheries, Marine Biology, or Oceanography. << FAQ

How do I apply to the SELMR program and/or for the SMP traineeship?
You apply to the SELMR program as well as to the department of your sponsoring UAF faculty member. Application information and a link to the University of Alaska Fairbanks for application forms are at APPLY.  << FAQ

When are applications due?
Target date for submission of all documents for the SELMR program is May 7 for the following academic year. Later applications will be considered on a space available basis. Students must also apply for UAF graduate admission in the program in their supporting faculty member’s department, which may have its own deadline.  << FAQ

Can admission be deferred?
Because the SMP is supported by American Recovery Act funds, we are unable to carry forward unexpended funds. Therefore requests for deferred enrollment are unlikely to be honored. << FAQ

How long should the program take?
In most cases, it will take approximately 2 years to complete the requirements for both the MS and SELMR programs.  << FAQ

Where can I get some information about living in Alaska?
For starters, helpful information can be found at the following websites:

 << FAQ

Examples of Research Themes

Interrelationships between Marine Management and Science

SFOS-based research has stimulated changes in fishery management in Alaska, e.g., the establishment of fishery thresholds (levels below which commercial fisheries are closed); harvest rate strategies for groundfish, salmon, and invertebrates; Steller sea lion protection measures; management of impacts of fisheries on benthic habitats; hatchery operations; mechanisms for maximizing the value of catches; incentive structures to minimize bycatch; criteria for allocating catches among competing user groups; product development for new fisheries; and other fishery management measures. The intimate involvement of SFOS faculty in fishery management assists them to design research projects that answer fundamental questions and provides information that is directly relevant to priority fishery management issues, which fosters the development of collaborative relationships with agency scientists, and leads to ongoing service of SFOS faculty as science advisors to state and federal mangers. Examples of research questions that SELMR students might address include:

How can existing fisheries legislation incorporate an ecosystem based approach?
National law and policy mandate EBFM. To date, most progress in this area has been conceptual, focusing on definitions, broad statements of goals and objectives, and compilations of lists of ecosystem indicators. New policies and institutional frameworks are needed to put ecosystem-based management into practice. Moreover, research is required to develop useful performance measures for specific ecological and social indicators, so that they can be implemented directly into decision rules for fisheries management.

What are feasible new paradigms for fisheries management?
Fisheries management requires decisions about harvest limits based on available information and understanding of populations gained through research. State and federal fisheries management in Alaska have a well-deserved reputation of rendering science-based management decisions. In federally managed fisheries, the abundances of fish and invertebrate stocks are assessed by scientists who combine fishery-dependent data with routine fishery-independent surveys and state-of-the-art statistical estimation models. Nevertheless, aside from a few commercially important fish and invertebrates, information about the structure and functioning of pelagic and benthic communities off Alaska is sparse. A more comprehensive understanding of the functioning of benthic habitats and how they are affected by fishing or other stressors is needed. As climate changes, fisheries and other human activities are likely to shift into the northern Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas – areas where knowledge about biological communities and habitats is even more limited.

How can multiple trophic levels be included in fisheries management?
While commercially exploited fish stocks off Alaska are well-managed, declining populations of some marine mammals (e.g., Steller sea lion, northern fur seal, Western Aleutian sea otters, Cook Inlet beluga whales) and some seabirds (e.g., short-tailed albatross, Steller's eiders) have raised concerns about the adequacy of current management processes for addressing ecosystem-scale issues. Although federal law requires consideration of ecosystem effects, and although annual catch quotas for commercially exploited fish stocks are often reduced below the single species acceptable biological catches (ABCs) to reflect concerns about trophic relationships, progress towards adopting an ecosystem-based management regime has been halting. While the models of population dynamics used to determine ABC and overfishing levels (OFLs) increasingly include trophic relationships, and while a new generation of ecosystem models is being developed for the GOA and BSAI regions, lingering doubts about the structure of these models and their associated trade-offs between sampling and specification errors have limited the direct use of ecosystem models in establishing ABCs and OFLs. Moreover, regulation, sampling, and enforcement institutions – and the fishing industry and some fishery-dependent communities – have been structured around a single-species or species-suite; little is known about how these institutions, industries, and communities would change under an EBFM regime.

How can stakeholders be included in an ecosystem-based approach to management?
In addition to ethnic, cultural and environmental drivers, the social and economic structure of Alaska's fisheries and fishery-dependent communities have evolved to their present form, partly in response to the various single species management regimes that have governed access to fishery resources. While the social and economic attributes of open access, limited entry, spatial use rights, and IFQ and pooled quota share managed fisheries have been studied extensively, the design of regulatory structures to support EBFM and the likely social and economic impacts the transition to and implementation of EBFM have not been well-explored. There is a need for research to examine the magnitude and distribution of costs and benefits under alternative EBFM management structures; to anticipate how EBFM might affect net benefits to fishermen, crew, processors, wholesalers, etc.; to anticipate how EBFM might impact direct, indirect, and induced benefits (costs) to communities and industry sectors; and to anticipate how EBFM might alter external benefits and costs to real and vicarious resource users (e.g., recreation, personal use, subsistence, non-consumptive). Integrated management approaches encourage coordination of local and national strategies to guide resource allocation among competing interests. Broad stakeholder participation is critical if EBFM is to succeed in defining solutions to emerging conditions in Alaskan waters and beyond. In addition to federal, state, and local government entities, stakeholders might include tribes, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), universities and research institutes, fishermen, processors, local communities, developers, coastal industries (including tourism, processing, mining), and others at national and international levels of interest and organization.

How robust and resilient are alternative management strategies under varying environmental and ecological conditions?
This is an avenue of research that has not yet been well-examined in the context of current regulatory structures, let alone in the context of EBFM. Research topics that could be explored include questions about whether entitlement and tenure-based management regimes increase or decrease the resilience of social and economic institutions when the abundance, value, and distribution of target and non-target species vary in response to changes in the biophysical system. Included within this area of research are questions about how spatial and temporal dimensions of fishing effort respond to changes in relative abundance or relative value of target species, incidental catches of bycatch species, and changes in the relative abundance of species that might compete for target or incidental catches of overlapping or non-overlapping size-classes of the same species (e.g., sea birds, marine mammals, sharks).

Responses of Marine Ecosystems to Human-Induced Changes

Humans are constituents of ecosystems; our actions shape and are shaped by ecosystem structure and function. For millennia, humans have significantly and substantially altered environments, including marine and coastal systems. Research questions that SELMR students might address include:

What are the effects of climate-induced ecosystem changes?
There is a need for research to understand the linkages between marine ecological communities and habitats and climate and climate change. These linkages need to be understood in light of large-scale drivers, which in Alaskan waters include changes in temperature, magnitude and timing of precipitation and river runoff, seasonal ice cover, and large-scale nutrient regimes. Predictive models are needed in each Alaskan LME to forecast how these large-scale drivers affect marine community composition, primary production, secondary "invertebrate" production, fish production, marine mammals, and ultimately the human communities and economies that are dependent on marine ecosystems.

To what extent are regime shifts the result of fishing?
In the last decades, research efforts in Alaskan waters have clearly demonstrated the need for a better understanding of connections between lower and upper trophic level marine populations. While some observed transitions in marine community structures appear to be connected to climate regime shifts, the processes leading to the restructuring of marine ecosystems remain less transparent. Ecological regime shifts have had far-reaching consequences for the marine ecosystems of the GOA and BSAI. Some of the observed species responses included increases in gelatinous zooplankton in the Bering Sea, the occurrence of coccolithophore blooms in the southeastern Bering Sea, shifts in the species composition to large piscivorous groundfish in the GOA, and the collapse of marine mammal and bird populations around the Aleutian Islands. However, responses of apex predators to climatologic regime shifts are particularly difficult to establish, primarily due to their longer response time. To date, causal relationships for ecological regime shifts have been suggested to be either bottom-up initiated by climate change, top-down, or a combination of both.

Are declines in higher trophic levels the result of fishing?
The decline in Steller sea lions, particularly in the eastern Aleutian Islands and the western GOA, dramatically demonstrates the need for a better understanding of causal relationships between the dynamics of upper trophic level organism and changes in the abundance and species composition of lower trophic level taxa. By 1990, the population of Steller sea lions had declined by about 80%, prompting their listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As required under this listing, research was initiated with the aim of investigating the functional linkages in the BSAI ecosystems and of identifying factors responsible for their reorganization. Mechanisms hypothesized to explain the decline of Steller sea lions can be broadly divided into bottom-up and top-down; bottom-up hypotheses included nutritional limitation caused by declines in prey taxa abundance resulting from an ecological regime shift or increased commercial fishing pressure of preferred prey. Top-down hypotheses encompass mechanisms such as intentional takes, incidental mortality due to commercial fishing pressure or increased predation pressure on Steller sea lions as a result of prey switching of transient killer whales. Thus, while there is little doubt about the patterns of Steller sea lion population change, factors responsible for these patterns remain unknown, and proposed regulative mechanisms severely disputed. A better understanding of the mechanisms responsible for changes in abundance is necessary to formulate and evaluate hypotheses of marine population regulation in Alaskan waters.

What is the effect of fishing on habitat?
Fishing can significantly impact the physical and structural properties of a habitat, which can translate into changes in epifaunal communities. Mortality of bottom fauna caused by bottom trawling is particularly high for large-sized infauna, while smaller organisms are usually less affected. Hence, diversity, abundance, size structure and the production of benthic communities can be greatly affected, and with that productivity of the system and food sources of the targeted fish resources. Moreover, structural disturbance of the habitat can be significant, especially in vulnerable habitat types such as seamount coral systems. Benthic invertebrate bycatch can account for up to 90% of commercial catches, including undersized target species and non-target species. Bottom trawling can therefore lead to changes in community composition and size structure. However, the impacts of bottom trawling depend on the character of the gear being used, how that gear is deployed, the nature of the habitat and the density and frequency of tows. With the increasing recognition of the value of EBFM, where management starts with the ecosystem rather than a target species, the impact of bottom trawling on benthic communities has to be carefully evaluated. Comparisons between fished and protected areas often are flawed by inherent (and possibly unknown) differences in the system that are independent of fishing. An innovative solution to the problem could be through small-scale manipulative studies simultaneously targeting multi-faceted aspects such as the physical environment, community composition, size-distribution, functional trophic groups and productivity.


©2010 SELMR | contact | Modified  07 May 2010.