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AFSC Historical Corner:  Kodiak Laboratory

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Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.
Kodiak facility, old U.S. Coast Guard building
The Shellfish Assessment Program occupied the U.S. Coast Guard Support Center at Womens Bay from the early 1970s until 1998.  NMFS photo, ca. 1990.

Kodiak has served as a base for marine research carried out by the University of Washington, the U. S. Navy, and several nations including Japan, Poland, and Russia. With the establishment of salmon research and management programs in the early 1930s, Kodiak also became an important base for federal fisheries activities.

In 1940, a special act of Congress funded a king crab exploratory fishing and research program that was instrumental in developing extremely valuable crab fisheries around Kodiak and in the eastern Bering Sea. Exploratory fishing and research for shellfish in the Gulf of Alaska provided part of the basis for establishing large shrimp fisheries as well as scallop fisheries.

The Ketchikan Lab  (1940-71)
In November 1940, the Agency's new Fishery Products Laboratory began operation in Ketchikan with staff from the Seattle Montlake Lab. At the time, the fish catch in Alaska was essentially salmon, herring and halibut. The interest for developing new Alaska fisheries led to the establishment of the Ketchikan facility, with funding provided by both the Federal Government and Territory of Alaska.

The focus of research at the Ketchikan laboratory began with crabs and clams, followed by the study of handling and preservation processes for shrimp – an industry that eventually grew to become over 20% of the Alaska fishery harvest by the 1980s.

In 1943, the laboratory was tasked with investigating the use of marine species, such as sharks and Steller sea lions, as potential emergency food sources in the event of a shortage brought about by World War II.

Recognizing the importance of shellfish resources, work at the lab increased to the point where nearly all efforts in the early 1960s was in shellfish utilization. A new method of efficiently peeling Alaska Shrimp during commercial production was discovered in 1966 by scientists at the lab.

The station, now called the Ketchikan Technological Laboratory, closed by the end of the decade. In 1971, personnel and equipment from the lab was relocated to the newly built Kodiak facility.

On 8 March 1965, land at Gibson Cove site on Kodiak Island was transferred to the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCC) by the U.S. Navy. At the time, this small site served as a temporary station for the BCF while a replacement warehouse, office and dock were being constructed. Improvements followed, such as a new generator, road, water line, live-tank facility, aquarium, and dry laboratory.

In 1971, the Northwest Fisheries Center's Shellfish Assessment Program moved from Seattle to Kodiak, along with portions of the Center's Juneau-based Exploratory Fishing and Gear Research Program and the Ketchikan Fish Products Technology Laboratory (see adjacent box). Initially, the National Marine Fisheries Service's (NMFS) Enforcement Program occupied the new facility at Gibson Cove, while the Shellfish Assessment Program and the Utlization Research Laboratory were housed in the U.S. Coast Guard Support Center at Womens Bay nearby.

With the passage of the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, the development of enormous groundfish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea made the NMFS research facility in Kodiak a strategic necessity.

In October 1998, NMFS personnel from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC), the Alaska Regional Office (ARO), and the Northwest Fisheries Science Center moved into the new office and laboratory facilities at the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center (KFRC) on Near Island in Kodiak, Alaska. Currently (2011) the $19.4 million research facility is owned by the Kodiak Island Borough and leased to NMFS, the National Park Service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), and the University of Alaska.

Located on approximately 7 acres, the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center presently consists of a pump house, housing for visiting researchers and students, and the main building, which in addition to offices and traditional laboratories, has a modern seawater lab, necropsy lab, along with an aquarium, interpretive center, museum and conference rooms for public use. The award-winning design of the Center was created by ECI/Hyer-NBBJ Associated Architects in association with five additional specialized firms.

At the NMFS level, the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center currently (as of 2011) houses portions of five programs:

  Kodiak Laboratory
The new Kodiak Laboratory opened in 1998.  AFSC photo.
  • The AFSC's Shellfish Assessment Program conducts and reports results of surveys designed to establish time series estimates of the distribution and abundance of crabs and other commercial shellfish resources in Alaska. The program is the largest component of NMFS research in the building and the largest research program at the new facility.
  • The AFSC's Kodiak field office of the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program debriefs observers upon their return from fishing vessel trips to gather information on the species and size composition of the catch, and to ensure that data were properly collected and recorded.
  • The AFSC's National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML) conducts specialized biological research on Steller sea lions, large whales, and killer whales.
  • The AFSC's Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering Division's (RACE) Groundfish Assessment Program has conducted bottom trawl assessment surveys for groundfish and king and Tanner crabs in the eastern Bering Sea, in cooperation with the Shellfish Program.
  • The Alaska Regional Office of the Sustainable Fisheries Division disseminates information concerning regulations, openings, closures, and the progress of fisheries.

The new Kodiak facility also meets the needs for a base of operations for field research, expanding management and observer coordination in groundfish fisheries and timely cooperation with the ADF&G on shellfish surveys and fishery management decision-making.

Additional reading:

  • Anonymous. 1971. Secretary Stans Dedicates New Kodiak Marine Fisheries Center, p. 3. In NOAA Week newsletter. 23 July 1971, 2(29):8.  (.pdf, 750 KB).

Kodiak Laboratory web page

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