By Tom Walker
One of the positive things about Alaska salmon enhancement hatcheries is that they are often remote. That means a supply of cool, clean water coming from streams undisturbed by development. But that remoteness can also be a negative, when operators are trying to retain staff.
By Tom Walker
“Hatcheries can have a hard time finding people and a hard time keeping people,” says Angie Bowers, University of Alaska Southeast faculty member. “There can be a lot of turnover. People just giving up and leaving before the season is done.”
Bowers knows from experience. She’s been working in the Alaska salmon industry for 12 years and has managed hatcheries. “When I worked as an operator and I was doing the hiring, I would be really honest with people about the kinds of conditions they would get themselves into,” she recalls. “But that’s not always the case, I know one hatchery that isn’t even remote – they have access to town and they lost 10 seasonal employees and they had only hired 12.”
A new program at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) hopes to address staff retention challenges. The Salmon Culture Semester aims to give prospective hatchery workers the skills they need, as well as a taste of that remoteness.
“One of the things we are always doing is trying to reach out and find new ways to connect with students,” says Reid Brewer, who is currently the program director for the Fisheries Technology Program at UAS. “A new initiative we have been creating is a semester intensive.”
The program would have students come to the UAS Sitka campus and they take a semester-long lab class. “Last spring, we offered a very successful Alaska Dive Semester,” he says, “and we have just received a National Science Foundation grant to do the same thing for salmon culture.”
“So, this fall we are going to offer a Salmon Culture Semester where students come to Sitka for three-and-a-half months and they take a 13-credit regimen, says Brewer. “Basically, all the skills you would need to live and work at a hatchery or a remote operation.”
The state’s hatchery associations – called Alaska aquaculture associations – were part of the grant writing process, Brewer says, and the university has worked with them for input on curriculum. And with three of the state’s 29 hatcheries close to town, Sitka is an ideal location.
“What we are offering is the potential to teach these classes in one of our three hatcheries, so the students are working with industry professionals,” says Brewer. “They will also have to complete a 10-day internship at a remote hatchery to see what life is like there.”
The semester will include salmon culture courses, fish biology courses, skiff operator, outboard motor maintenance and repair, cold water survival and first aid.
“Then we follow that up with a job fair and invite all the aquaculture associations,” says Brewer. “We will be able to introduce them to 20 students who have been through this very hands-on, intensive program.”
Brewer says they expect interest from people looking to transition from fishing to the hatchery industry, recent high school graduates, as well as people from trout farms in the lower 48 that want a season in Alaska.
Angie Bowers will teach or co-teach the courses and her industry experience will be invaluable in her work with the students.
“I came up to Alaska for a season to work at a remote hatchery on the east side Baranof Island (Hidden Falls, air and boat access only),” explains Bowers. “But I stayed and worked my way up to manager for the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association over 10 years.”
She then accepted a position as aquaculture director for the Sitka Sound Science Center in Sitka.
“I ran their small hatchery and got more interested in the research and education side of things,” she says. Bowers joined the UAS faculty as an assistant professor last fall. She has a Graduate Degree in Fisheries Management, from Oregon State University.
For more information about the program, visit www.salmonculturesemester.alaska.edu