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Alex Wertheimer Retires

Alex Wertheimer
Alex Wertheimer.  Photo by Auke Bay Laboratories.

Alex Wertheimer, one of the Nation's leading researchers in early ocean salmon ecology and leader of the AFSC's Southeast Coastal Monitoring group, has left the Auke Bay Laboratories (ABL) after a highly productive and storied 35-year career. Twice nominated for a Distinguished Career Award, Alex was among ABL's most beloved characters. He played key roles in the development of salmon enhancement, the federal response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and served as technical advisor on several international committees.

Alex began his fisheries career in the summer of 1970 as a temporary hire at the Little Port Walter (LPW) Marine Station on lower Baranof Island, Alaska. He continued to work as a temporary at LPW during summer 1971 and 1972. With new research focused on Chinook salmon, Alex became the year-round resident biological technician at LPW in fall 1972. He and wife Peggy continued to live and work at LPW until 1980 when they moved to Juneau. Alex received his B.S. degree in fishery science from Oregon State University in 1979 and his M.S. in fisheries from the University of Alaska in 1984.

Alex grew rapidly into one of ABL's leading research scientists, widely recognized for his outstanding personal and professional excellence. He continued to be involved in numerous research projects at LPW in addition to taking a leadership role in early marine research on juvenile salmon. Over the years his innovative, dedicated, and highly competent approaches to fisheries research have had significant impacts on management policy in both domestic and international fisheries issues. His leadership role, broad-ranging technical expertise, and professional decorum in dealing with individuals, other agencies, entities, and controversial issues is widely recognized and highly respected in the fisheries and scientific communities throughout Alaska, as well as nationally and internationally.

Alex played a major role in helping Alaska develop salmon stock enhancement programs through an innovative approach for the use of hatcheries while protecting and maintaining large, healthy, wild-stock salmon populations, a combination unequaled anywhere else in the world. As Project Leader, initially of the Early Ocean Salmon research group at ABL and more recently of the Southeast Coastal Monitoring group, Alex played a major role in improving knowledge of early marine growth, distribution, and migration behavior of young salmon; near-shore habitat utilization; predator/prey relationships; and relationships of early marine environmental conditions and year-class success of salmon. This knowledge has led to a highly successful forecast model for predicting annual harvest levels of pink salmon.

Alex's research on hooking mortality in nonretention Chinook salmon troll fisheries is a vital component of the coast-wide model crucial to the successful management under the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty of contentious issues associated with this species and associated industries that harvest Chinook salmon. He also is the sole NMFS-Alaska representative on the important Chinook Technical Committee of the Pacific Salmon Commission under the U.S- Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty where he has served with distinction and great respect among colleagues both U.S. and Canadian. Alex will continue serving in this capacity as a contractor to finish commitments on an incidental mortality report.

Alex has been actively involved in detailed research on pink salmon in Prince William Sound (PWS) as it relates to the large hatchery program and possible impacts on wild-stock productivity. He has given numerous seminars and talks at workshops on the issue of PWS pink salmon hatchery-wild stock interactions and related biophysical factors. He is senior author on three important papers published on this subject, including one given at an International Symposium on Stock Enhancement and Sea Ranching in Kobe, Japan.

Over the years Alex has authored 20 and coauthored an additional 40 peer-reviewed professional journal publications and even more agency reports and articles on various aspects of Alaska fisheries. He has long been an active diver in ABL dive programs, logging more than 700 official dives. He has served as associate editor for professional peer- reviewed fishery journals, as president of the Alaska Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, as a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council Salmon Plan Development Team, as NMFS representative on Interagency Alaska Genetic Policy Plan, as Technical Monitor and Science Coordination Panel Member for ADF&G on Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Funds, as NMFS-Alaska Mark/Tag Coordinator for Pacific States Marine Fish Commission, as a member of the Biological Review Team for Chinook Salmon in the Pacific Northwest and California related to ESA determinations, and as University of Alaska Fairbanks Affiliate Faculty serving on graduate committees and mentoring graduate students.

Alex has been given numerous awards throughout his career. Perhaps the most significant was in 2003 when the Alaska American Fisheries Society (AFS) Chapter presented Alex with the Wallace H. Noerenberg Award for Fisheries Excellence in recognition of his outstanding contributions to Alaska fisheries. The award is the most prestigious award the AFS in Alaska can convey, the embodiment of fisheries professionalism.

Alex's role and ability to develop consensus and compromise in complex fishery and conservation issues, his personal skills in dealing with people, and his professional excellence and integrity represent a model among peers that will be sorely missed and impossible to replace at ABL. We wish the best for Alex and his family in retirement.

By Bill Heard

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