The newest member of the NOAA research fleet, NOAA Fisheries Survey Vessel Reuben Lasker, was commissioned May 2 in San Diego in a ceremony that served as a reminder that the NOAA Commissioned Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States government.
The event contained all the pomp that would attend the commissioning of a Navy vessel, complete with a Navy brass band playing “Anchors Aweigh” and the official captain’s order to his first mate to enter the commission as the ship’s first log entry and establish its first watch.
The motions were more than mere ceremony, though, according to speakers at the event. More than one noted that in an era of increasing climate instability and the economic instability that could follow it, NOAA serves as America’s “environmental intelligence agency” now more than ever.
The vessel will be the first NOAA ship home-ported in San Diego since David Starr Jordan was retired in 2009, having logged 1.5 million miles in its 44-year tenure.
“NOAA will once again be prominent in San Diego Bay,” said U.S. 53rd District Rep. Susan Davis, who helped secure American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for the construction of the $75-million Lasker. “The ship brings an important legacy to our research mission and to the blue economy.”
Lasker’s duties will take it not far from the Port of San Diego. It will routinely conduct research cruises in the California Current, the ocean region where Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, and NOAA operate the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) program with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, one of the world’s longest-running continuous surveys of ocean conditions and marine life. Since 1949, CalCOFI has conducted regular cruises with the goal of managing living resources in an ocean region that supports a $250 million fishery.
“The need for people to go to sea and for ships to take them there will never go away,” said Rear Admiral David Score, director of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps.
The relationship between Scripps and SWFSC began even before the launch of CalCOFI. The two research centers began collaborating in the 1930s when SWFSC was known as the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries. Today, collaborations between the institutions range from sharks to ocean resource economics, marine mammal acoustics and Antarctic ecosystems, along with student training and shared use of ship time.
The vessel is named for the late NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) Coastal Fisheries Division Director Reuben Lasker, who also served as an adjunct professor at Scripps. Lasker is renowned in the world of fisheries management for the advances his research group made in understanding the transition period of commercially important fish species from juveniles to adults.
“Reuben Lasker was a real fisheries oceanographer,” said Scripps biological oceanographer David Checkley, director of Scripps CalCOFI. “He knew fish and oceanography and studied their relation to better inform fisheries management. Reuben would be thrilled with his namesake ship, fitted like no other to advance the science he represents so well. We at Scripps look forward to continued collaboration with NOAA using this extraordinary vessel, particularly in CalCOFI.”
San Diego Port Commissioner Bob Nelson noted that the 208-foot Lasker brings 24 new jobs and an estimated $27 million to the San Diego economy as it makes the 10th Street Terminal its new home, contributing to San Diego’s prominence as “a world leader in making environmental observations and the education of future scientists.”
“It’s also a great place to do business,” he added.
After at-sea trials are conducted, Lasker’s first cruise will be a July cetacean and ecosystem survey. It will employ perhaps its most distinctive feature, an ability to operate so quietly that the vessel will be able to make close-range observations of marine life without disturbing animal behavior or compromising extremely sensitive acoustic equipment.
“Lasker will continue our 60-plus year shared sampling mission in the California Current with Scripps,” said Francisco Werner, science and research director of SWFSC, which is adjacent to the Scripps Oceanography campus in La Jolla, Calif.
– Robert Monroe