Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
October 2004

Future Biologists Get Hands-On Experience

By Nancy Long
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Student intern, Ramona Baker

In a remote outpost on the Kuskowim River this summer, student intern Laura Boomershine implanted chinook salmon with radio tags. Ramona Baker graduated this spring from Nikiski High School and spent the summer counting spawning salmon, collecting eggs and trapping and marking smolt.

These young women are two of about 20 students around Alaska involved in internship and education programs through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Division of Sport Fish, programs that are helping to spawn the next generation of Alaska fisheries biologists.

The symbiotic nature of student programs creates successful outcomes for all involved. Interns contribute to fisheries science and management projects, and develop interest for future careers with the Sport Fish division. The division provides students with practical experience and knowledge, financial support, and academic credit in some cases. The programs also increase understanding and support for Sport Fish projects. Local economies also get a boost from the housing and services students use while staying in communities during their internship.

The high school and college students involved in these programs are with the division from eight weeks to six months, and even longer for some undergraduate programs. In most cases, interns are paid. The majority of these students ultimately graduate with biology degrees and pursue careers in fisheries or related fields.

“By funding these programs, we are investing in the future of our recreational fisheries. Today’s interns and undergraduates will become tomorrow’s fisheries biologists and successors to staff retiring or moving on to other positions,” said Kelly Hepler, director of the Division of Sport Fish. “We have the best, most extensive recreational fishing opportunities in the world. Sustaining or improving these opportunities for future generations requires competent leaders and highly skilled fisheries staff. Through these programs, we are fostering the excellence we need.”

One of the main goals of the Sport Fish Division’s Strategic Plan is to “maintain a diverse, dedicated, motivated, empowered, and effective workforce.” To meet this goal, the division recruits and funds various student intern and education programs. Faced with a significant percentage of staff eligible for retirement in the next few years, these recruitment programs are extremely important.

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Student intern, Christy Peterson

One such program is the highly competitive Hutton Junior Fisheries Biology Program, sponsored by the American Fisheries Society and designed to interest more women and minorites into fisheries professions. This summer, four Alaskan students were chosen out of 65 students selected nationwide. Sport Fish provided funding and staff to mentor the students who worked on the division projects.

“The Hutton program offers a great opportunity to get a step ahead,” said Christy Peterson, 2004 graduate of Palmer High School. “As a hands-on educational program, I’m eminently enthused to have the chance to participate.”

Peterson worked with fisheries biologist and mentor Susie Hayes on Northern Cook Inlet fishery research projects. She spent two years researching jobs and volunteer projects that would further her career plans in fisheries or marine biology. Her high school ecology class, as well as her love for fishing, camping, and other outdoor activities, inspired Peterson to apply to the Hutton program.

Ramona Baker, a 2004 graduate of Nikiski High School, was another of the Hutton students from Alaska. Baker worked through the summer on a Crooked Creek chinook salmon project and a Moose Creek cohosalmon project.

Fisheries biologist Bruce King, the project leader in the Soldotna office, mentored Ramona Baker’sinternship. “It was beneficial for Ramona, as with most Hutton students, because we lay out the internship so that they can experience a variety of projects and understand the varied aspects of a fisheries program. Ramona was most aggressive in pursuing opportunities. If you asked her if she wanted to try something, she didn’t hesitate. She would just jump in and be up to her armpits doing it.”

“The Hutton program has been very beneficial for the division,” continued King. “We currently have two previous Hutton interns working in the office; one is involved in a fisheries undergraduate program. Interns also talk to their peers at school and in the community about management and biology, so that in itself is great in terms of fisheries outreach.”

Taryn O’Connor is a home-schooled senior from Dillingham and returning 2004 Hutton student. She worked with Sport Fish Area Management Biologist Jason Dye on several research and management projects in the Bristol Bay area.

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Student intern, Jason Dye

“I think the Dillingham office is a great setting for career exploration and learning about fisheries science,” O’Connor said. Because she grew up in a commercial fishing family, she feels that her internship with Sport Fish gives her a well-rounded understanding of Alaska’s fisheries.

Intern and undergraduate programs have a proven track record for recruiting and fostering skilled staff, and a number of Sport Fish employees got their start through student intern programs. In 1979, Rocky Holmes, then four years out of college, was working in Fairbanks as a fishery biologist at an entry level position for Sport Fish. He enjoyed his work, sampling lakes and streams throughout interior and northern Alaska, but wanted a position with more challenges and responsibility. The Sport Fish Division provided him that opportunity. They funded his graduate research at the Alaska Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit, a program sponsored by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Fish and Game and the University of Alaska.

“Personally, it gave me the opportunity to become a lot more proficient in scientific sampling and population dynamics. Without the graduate program, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to advance my education and qualify for higher level jobs,” said Holmes, now the Southeast Regional Supervisor for the Sport Fish Division. “In return, graduate and internship programs like the one I participated in attract motivated and competent biologists for the division.”

There are also opportunities with other divisions of Fish and Game for students interested in internships or academic programs; fish and wildlife research and management projects, administrative and computer services, education and information, and publications and graphics work.

All divisions and sections have employed interns: Sport Fish, Subsistence, Administrative Services, Wildlife Conservation, Boards Support, Commercial Fisheries and the Commissioner’s Office. Each is responsible for their local intern and education programs. Students are encouraged to contact the fish and game division and regional office for the location or subject of interest they wish to pursue.

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