NOAA lab reaches 10-year milestone

Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute celebrates years of landmark research

Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute Director Phil Mundy speaks at a 10-year anniversary dedication for the institute on Satuday. (Kevin Gullufsen | Juneau Empire)

The Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute celebrated the 10th anniversary of its opening Saturday with an open house and the dedication of a new park bench at their garden overlooking Lynn Canal.


Working under the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association staff at TSMRI (commonly referred to as “taz marie”) research and survey Alaska’s most important commercial fish stocks like pollock, sablefish and salmon. The institute has facilitated some of the NOAA’s best work, TSMRI fisheries scientists and professionals said.

Before the opening of the TSMRI, researchers were used to working in the cramped quarters of their old lab, situated next to Don D. Statter Harbor in Auke Bay.

Before the TSMRI was built, the genetics lab at the Auke Bay Laboratory was “basically some trailers that are parked on the asphalt,” TSMRI Director Phil Mundy said. “Now we have 33,000 square feet of lab space and we dedicate one-third of that to the genetics program.”

Researchers working there reached a milestone last year by earning a gold medal for distinguished achievement from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Mundy said. An “ecosystem level” study of sablefish — or black cod — shed light on the effect warming ocean temperatures have on sablefish prey.

Mundy called the $54-million study the largest ever of its kind.

“Over five years we looked at everything from physics to fish,” Mundy said. “We now have a much better idea of how changes in the climate bring about changes in the abundance of commercially-important fish.”

Fisheries research biologist Emily Fergusson has worked at the lab for 16 years. Pipes were freezing and a lack of proper ventilation at the old space made for a tough and dangerous work environment, Fergusson said during the TSMRI celebration.

A happy scientist is a productive scientist.

“This is just a state-of-the-art lab to work in,” Fergusson said. “We have dedicated space, specialized equipment … It’s been a pleasure.”

John Moran investigates the deaths of marine mammals in the institute’s necropsy lab. Researchers used to do their investigations in an attached garage that was neither designed nor suited for such work. Or they’d battle bugs and weather to carve up mammals on the beach.

In addition to researching natural marine mammal deaths, Moran is part of a network of professionals who help law enforcement investigate deaths they suspect may be unlawful.

It’s work he said he couldn’t properly do before the TSMRI was built.

“This lab space is huge for doing this stuff. There was just no place to do it. You wind up doing things like this on the beach,” he said.

The center was named after late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. He was chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee at the time and helped secure funding for TSMRI. Stevens died in 2010 in an Alaska plane crash.

In his long tenure in the Senate, Stevens crafted the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, sometimes known as the 200-mile law for keeping foreign fishing fleets further from shore than previous U.S. law required.

Because of Stevens’ dedication to U.S. fisheries conservation and science, Mundy said, “there was never a better namesake in the world.”

Juneau Mayor Ken Koelsch and Dr. Francisco (Cisco) Werner, Director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, both spoke at the event. U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, who both had previously expressed intention of attending, could not make the ceremony.

• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or


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