Fishing Pioneer Honored by SeaLife Center

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Jay Barrett/KMXT

Since 2010, the Alaska Sea Life Center announced its Ocean Leadership Awards last week, and among them was Kodiak’s Al Burch, who will receive the prestigious Walter J. and Ermalee Hickel Lifetime Achievement Award.

“It’s basically a recognition of not any specific contribution, but a lifetime of effort in helping preserve and promote good ocean stewardship.”

That’s Denby Lloyd, executive director of the North Pacific Research Board, and a member of the awards committee that selected Burch for the honor.

“And I’ll tell you it was a fairly easy decision, to say, ‘You bet, Al Burch.’ I mean it’s almost a head-slapper to be able to recognize him as a long standing leader in fishery policy in Alaska. And I actually consider it a great honor to be able to say I was part of the panel that selected him.”

Burch has fished Alaska waters for 55 years, starting as a shrimper out of Seward as a young man before moving to Kodiak. In that time he has served on countless national and international fishery and ocean-related boards. He was inducted into the United Fishermen of Alaska Seafood Hall of Fame in 2009 and recently retired as executive director of the Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association. He also served for 30 years on the Advisory Panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is where Lloyd says they first met in the 1980s.

“I was on staff and he was a long standing member of the Council’s advisory panel. You know, a senior member at that point that people listened to and looked to for guidance. I also remember that he invited me to come out to Kodiak. So I came and got a nice tour around town, and he and his brother Oral took me out fishing on their pleasure boat and I caught the largest halibut I’ve still ever caught.”

Burch will receive the award at the Alaska Marine Gala on the 21st in Anchorage at the Dena’ina Center. Other Alaska Ocean Leadership Awards to be given that night are the Alyeska Vessel of Opportunity Program, which trains fishermen to be emergency first-on-the scene oil spill responders; Alisa Aist, a student at the Polaris K-12 school in Anchorage, for her dedication to become a marine biologist.

Two awards were give at the recent Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage. They went to Benjamin Carney, a teacher at Juneau-Douglas High School, who has coached his school’s “Alaska Tsunami Bowl” team to first place since 2007, and to a third place in last year’s national finals; and to Jacqueline Grebmeier and Lee Cooper for their work to understand the Arctic Ocean ecosystem.

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