University fisheries program attracts more students, and not just from Alaska

Now in its 15th year, the applied fisheries program at the University of Alaska Southeast draws students from across the state and across the country. Not just ocean states like Florida, but the Great Lakes state of Wisconsin, and even landlocked Wyoming and Kentucky this semester.

“Our enrollment has been increasing,” said assistant professor Lauren Wild, who has taught in the program since 2020.

Students attend online or, she said, if they live in an area without adequate and reliable high-speed internet service, the school will send them an iPad loaded with the course material, such as for students who work at remote salmon hatcheries.

The number of student credit hours earned each year has more than tripled in the past decade, with enrollment now running about 300 students a semester, said Joel Markis, director of the Sitka-based program.

Aside from the “sprinkling of students” from the Lower 48, Wild said, students from Southeast are the largest contingent in classes, though Alaskans from Southcentral and fishing communities on the Kenai Peninsula, Prince William Sound, Kotzebue and even St. Paul in the Bering Sea also have signed up this year.

A big attraction is that students can earn college credits while still in high school. A couple of Wrangell students are participating in the dual-enrollment program this year, with at least a few signing up most every year.

UAS wants to expand its dual enrollment of high school students, said Katie Sill, academic adviser. Scholarships to cover tuition and fees are available for those students, she added.

And just as Alaska coastal communities are looking to expand their economies into mariculture — growing and harvesting shellfish and plants, such as kelp — one of the newer classes in the UAS coursebook is an introduction to mariculture. Hopefully, it will be the first of many in the subject area, said Sill.

The university is part of a Southeast-based consortium of nearly 20 municipalities, nonprofit organizations, Native and tribal corporations with $49 million in federal funding to expand the state’s mariculture industry.

The mariculture class covers the methods used to grow seaweed and shellfish, “with an emphasis on the techniques used by Alaska producers,” according to the course description. The class covers “all aspects of production, including species identification and biology, site selection, permitting, daily nursery and farm operations, business management, processing and sales.”

Wild is teaching courses on the fisheries of Alaska this semester, providing a broad overview of all the different species of salmon, crab and halibut, gear types and boats; fisheries policy, covering state and federal management; fish biology; and oceanography.

Though she majored in international relations as an undergrad in college, Wild moved into fisheries after going to work on whale research out of Sitka and later earned two advanced degrees.

The UAS fisheries program has three full-time faculty, said Markis, who teaches fisheries management law and economics. “It’s steeped in Alaska history,” he said, including the statehood fight to ban fish traps.

The courses started in Ketchikan in 2009 and moved to the UAS Sitka campus about 10 years ago, Markis said. In addition to degrees, the school also offers certificate programs which are particularly useful for students who want to work as fishery technicians for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game or U.S. Forest Service.

Enrollment is open for the next semester, which starts Jan. 16. For more information, contact Sill at 907-747-7777 in Sitka, or Wrangell High School students can talk with biology teacher Heater Howe, who has been working with the dual-enrollment effort for several years.


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