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AFSC Historical Corner:  Kasitsna Bay Field Station

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Kasitsna Bay field station
NOAA's Kasitsna Bay Laboratory in Seldovia, Alaska.  NOAA website photo.
 

Research at Kachemak Bay (Cook Inlet) can be traced back to 1957 when the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF) started studying shellfish in the bay.

To support these research activities a small year-round field station was constructed in 1960 at Kasitsna Bay on 27 acres of the lower Kenai Peninsula – on the south shore of the mouth of Kachemak Bay across from Homer, Alaska. The site was chosen for shellfish research because of its accessibility to clean salt water and close proximity to year-round commercial fisheries for king, Tanner, and Dungeness crabs; along with shrimp, salmon, and halibut.

Early research focused on the life history, population dynamics, and behavior of pandalid shrimp in the Gulf of Alaska. Studies at the station focused on the description and life history Alaska shrimp and crab species population and the dynamics leading to derivation of regulated annual harvest levels for Kachemak Bay shrimp.

In 1978, changes in research priorities and problems associated with logistics led to the transfer of research activities to the Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center's Kodiak Laboratory. While NOAA retained ownership of the property, the Environmental Research Laboratories' (ERL) Outer Continental Shelf Environmental Assessment Program (OCSEAP) used the facility for the next 3 years. In 1981, the University of Alaska began using the station for shellfish research.

Kachemak Bay was designated as the 23rd reserve in NOAA's National Estuarine Research Reserve system in 1999. That year NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) took over the responsibility for the Kasitsna Bay Laboratory. In the early 2000s, over $12.5 million in renovations and new construction had been done to the facility by local contractors.

Moving into the 2010s, the Kasitsna Bay Laboratory carries on the research that began in the early 1960s. It is used primarily by the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), under a Memorandum of Understanding, as a place where people can learn about subtidal, intertidal, seagrass, and terrestrial communities. The laboratory also supports an active cold-water diving facility used by the National Undersea Research Program at UAF.

In 2014, Kachemak Bay was selected by NOAA as a habitat focus area due to its importance to recreational, subsistence, and commercial fishing; marine transportation; tourism; and threatened and endangered species. The ecological richness of this area is vulnerable to impacts associated with development activities, changes in ocean acidity, and changes in water conditions due to melting glaciers. The region has experienced significant declines in shrimp and Dungeness crab that have not recovered despite fisheries closures.


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