New NOAA Ship Strengthens Ties between Scripps Oceanography and Southwest Fisheries Science Center


With the recent launch of the Reuben Lasker, a high-tech fisheries survey vessel that will be operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), scientists at NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego praised the ship's commencement as a milestone for fisheries science as well as its ability to strengthen collaborations between Scripps and NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC).

NOAA anticipates bringing the Reuben Lasker to the West Coast in 2013 and beginning operations in 2014. The ship will support scientific assessments of fish stocks and other marine life on the U.S. West Coast.

"Reuben Lasker represents an important investment by the American people in our ability to monitor the health of our ocean ecosystems," said Bruce Appelgate, associate director of ship operations and marine technical support at Scripps. "This process of investment must continue in order to revitalize the United States research fleet, so that societally important issues can be properly understood."

The new vessel honors the late Reuben Lasker, a pioneering fisheries biologist who served as director of SWFSC's coastal fisheries division and worked in a key position as an adjunct professor at Scripps. Lasker fostered fundamental collaborations that formed a scientific bridge between Scripps and SWFSC.

"Reuben Lasker was arguably the father of West Coast fisheries oceanography," said Dave Checkley, a Scripps professor of oceanography and director of the Cooperative Institute on Marine Ecosystems and Climate (CIMEC), a Scripps-led NOAA program established to study climate change and coastal ecosystems. "He brought his basic knowledge of insect biology to bear on plankton and fish, and combined this with oceanography to lead the Southwest Fisheries Science Center's program on small pelagic fish, particularly anchovy and sardine."

"He and his colleagues are renowned worldwide for their contributions to the biology of these fish and their ecology and fisheries oceanography. He, as much as anyone, fostered the close and productive collaboration between academia and fisheries."

Checkley, who noted that Reuben Lasker served on his Ph.D. committee, said the namesake vessel furthers the close collaborations between Scripps and NOAA in fisheries oceanography that was formalized in 1949, following the collapse of California's sardine fishery and the inception of the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) program, a unique partnership of the California Department of Fish and Game, NOAA Fisheries Service, and Scripps. CalCOFI stands as one of the world's longest and most important marine monitoring programs and has provided valuable insights about various aspects of the waters off California and its inhabitants for more than 50 years.

"TheReuben Lasker will be one of NOAA's state-of-the-art fisheries vessels and will not only enable the continuation of CalCOFI but enhance it with its superior capabilities," said Checkley.

Sarah Mesnick of SWFSC notes that the relationship between the two organizations began even earlier. She says Scripps and SWFSC 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.

"Research vessels like Reuben Lasker enable understanding, which in turn enables well-informed policy decisions," said Appelgate. " Faced with many important questions, such as the ability of ocean ecosystems to support the existing web of life in the face of ocean warming and ocean acidification, our policymakers deserve the best data we can get our hands on. I expect Reuben Lasker will be very good at getting that kind of information."

CalCOFI's value has been augmented in recent years with key contributions from the California Current Ecosystem Long-term Ecological Research program funded by the National Science Foundation. Both programs rely on regular ship-based monitoring to allow scientists to study fluctuations in the sea that are important for science and society's needs.

"Reuben Lasker was the acknowledged leader for fisheries research on anchovy and sardines in the California Current during his time at the SWFSC," said Tony Koslow, a Scripps research oceanographer and current director of CalCOFI. "He led key advances in methods to assess these species and contributing key hypotheses about the oceanographic processes that regulate recruitment to these species."

Carrying on the work Rueben Lasker started years ago linking Scripps and SWFSC, programs and initiatives tapping the expertise of both institutions continue to emerge and thrive. For example, because of their neighboring locations in La Jolla, Calif., Scripps and SWFSC have jointly influenced several generations of marine scientists, oceanographers, and fishery biologists. Over nearly five decades, SWFSC has provided funding support, research platforms, and mentoring for more than 100 Scripps graduate students. Eight SWFSC scientists currently have joint appointments at SWFSC and Scripps and at least 23 Ph.D. graduate students are currently shared between the two institutions.

Recently hired Scripps assistant professor Brice Semmens is collaborating with scientists Paul Crone (SWFSC) and Mark Maunder (Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, or IATTC, which is hosted at SWFSC) within the recently established Center for the Advancement of Population Assessment Methodology (CAPAM), a new program under Scripps CIMEC program. CAPAM will focus on research that broadly addresses animal population biology/dynamics and in particular fish stock assessment modeling theory and applications. Research projects will be based on a two- to three-year time frame and include post-doctoral positions as well as visiting scientists and workshops. CAPAM provides an efficient infrastructure for conducting modeling research on important marine resources regionally and internationally. Ultimately, CAPAM will directly benefit the educational and research missions of Scripps, SWFSC, and IATTC.

The upcoming opening of a new SWFSC laboratory building promises to further Scripps-SWFSC collaborations. The new SWFSC facility will be a focal point for surveys and assessments of several important species, in addition to areas such as ecosystem-based management initiatives, research on the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems, and fisheries and conservation socio-economics.

With the construction of a world-class Ocean Technology Development Tank at the new facility, Scripps and SWFSC researchers will advance pioneering work in acoustical and optical technologies for instrumented buoys, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), gliders, profilers, drifters, and floats.

"The completion of two new facilities on the Scripps campus (NOAA's SWFSC La Jolla Laboratory Replacement Project and Scripps International Marine Ecosystems Laboratories building), together with the arrival of the Reuben Lasker on the U.S. West Coast will renew the deep and longstanding collaborations between scientists at SWFSC and Scripps," said Cisco Werner, director of SWFSC. "The proximity of our scientists and students in state-of-the-art laboratory, engineering and sensor development facilities, coupled with ready access to modern sea-going and modeling capabilities will enable us to jointly continue on our missions of scientific discovery, stewardship, and management of our oceans living marine resources. SWFSC's La Jolla laboratory and Reuben Lasker are funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and received strong support from California legislators."

-- Mario C. Aguilera

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