Task Force Fights Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center Closure

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

A Kodiak fisheries research building may be on the cusp of closure according to a task force now trying to keep it open. The Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center on Near Island – formerly known as Fisheries Industrial Technology Center – belongs to the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and its future is uncertain.

The task force hopes to convince the president of the University of Alaska to extend the deadline on its decision to give the group enough time to come up with a thorough presentation in defense of the facility.

KMXT sat down with members of the task force to talk about what they hope to

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Kodiak Island Borough Assemblyman Larry LeDoux says the Alaska State Legislature established the center in 1981 as an applied research facility to investigate efficient catching, processing of fish, seafood safety, and preservation.

“In fact, they’ve contributed significantly to the fisheries industry in Alaska, so it’s vital that this institution be functioning so that they can tackle some of the challenges our fishermen face, that we can develop more efficient ways to process our food and to utilize waste and value added processing.”

LeDoux says applied research is different from academic research in that it investigates the questions that the public needs answered. He says, traditionally, there has been opposition between the two research types because they don’t mix well.

And he says applied science now has a smaller presence at the center because of budget cuts.  

“Over time, the applied research component has slowly disappeared, until they have, I think, one and a half employees resident in the facility, and so we believe that if we lose the facility, then the program is lost completely. What we’re really interested in is the program that the facility hosts.”

He says the task force is concerned that the university made the decision to close the center quickly and without public input.

“So, what we’re looking for and what the borough assembly did and the city council – we wrote a letter to the president asking that they maintain it as least for another year, and they give our community, the industry education a chance to work together to develop a sustainability plan and to refine the mission so it continues to serve the citizens of Alaska with regard to applied fisheries research.”

Alan Austerman is a former Alaska State Representative and is also a member of the task force. He spoke about some of the challenges the center has faced with getting funding and recognition for its contributions.

“Whereas the big money comes into the university when you start talking about the fisheries and oceans – it’s ocean grants. That’s where the bulk of the money comes into the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. So, fisheries has kind been on the downplay a little bit, and also of course the School of Fishery being stationed in Fairbanks is kind of a difficult connection to be made between our ocean fisheries and the education system that we want.”

He says the University of Alaska has generally overlooked the center, and has offered the building to the University of Alaska Anchorage. He says the university president has given the chancellors of the University of Alaska Anchorage and University of Alaska Fairbanks until March 1 to come up with a recommendation.

Austerman also says it’s a difficult process because the center has gone through several different directors and has not had a permanent position holder for almost two years.  

“Without a director, there’s been no fund raising going on, and no grant raising going on and those kind of things that would keep the facility active and going, so that’s something we’re going to have to reinstitute as part of our strategy plan, but you can’t pull that together in a month or three months. It takes time to do that, so our effort right now is to try to get the president to hold off a year before they make a final decision.”
 
You can hear more about the center’s future and what the task force is trying to achieve on the most recent Talk of the Rock.

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