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Officials dedicate $51 million lab

Sen. Stevens cuts ribbon for marine research institute

Posted: Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Local dignitaries, scientists, educators and policymakers gathered Tuesday morning to dedicate the $51 million Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute.

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The 66,000-square-foot state-of-the-art National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration laboratory at Lena Point is poised to become the world's leading fisheries research facility, officials said.

"This is basically the beginning, I think, of an era where Alaska is going to be seen as the world's leader in fisheries management," institute Director Phil Mundy said.

The country's newest federal fisheries research laboratory provides major technological advancements and resources to guide the management practices and further the study of Alaska fisheries, he said.

"I think the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute is an indication to people that Alaska has come of age in the world of fisheries management - that we are now ready to take our place among the best in the world," Mundy said.

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, the institute's namesake, said he could not think of a more important facility for Alaska's future.

"Fisheries has been one of Alaska's greatest natural assets, and this marine research institute will help guarantee that they always will be," he said.

Alaska accounts for more than half of America's commercial fisheries, which contribute more than $1 billion annually to the state's economy, Stevens said. The new laboratory is a major component to help protect the vitality of Alaska's fisheries for generations to come, he said.

"It's going to have a real impact because there is no question about the fact that this is the key to really understanding the future as far as fisheries is concerned off our shores and probably off the West Coast," Stevens said.

Douglas DeMaster, director of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the dedication ceremony was 15 years in the making.

"This is our bridge to the future," he said. "This is a facility in terms of capacity and capability second to none in Alaska. Our intention here is to contribute to the management of marine fisheries with Alaska solutions and this building is going to be a part of that."

Stevens, one of Congress' most staunch supporters of fisheries, said the new research institute will help guide the nation's management policies.

"We have to find a way to get the world to wake up and start monitoring how the world's supply of food from the sea is being harvested and harvested in a way that has no scientific basis," he said. "This gives us the sound science for looking to the future as far as our country is concerned."

The new center is a major advancement for NOAA from its previous home in Auke Bay, Mundy said. The institute includes a 2,000-square foot wet lab, a necropsy lab, an ichthyology laboratory for sorting and identifying specimens, marine chemistry labs, genetics labs and biology labs.

Mundy said the necropsy lab is a major advancement to help the National Marine Fisheries Service further study Alaska's marine mammals.

"We'll never bring a humpback (whale) in here, but for Steller sea lions, harbor seals, porpoises, any case where the death needs to be investigated, we have a full-scale facility for allowing people to do that," he said.

NOAA will continue to use the Auke Bay laboratory, and it remains an important facility, Mundy said. Fourteen employees will remain in Auke Bay and NOAA is in talks with other federal agencies that could use the extra space.

"We're looking forward to having that as a joint federal tenancy over there," Mundy said.

The new marine research institute is an important part of the "economic lifeblood of Juneau," Mundy said. The payroll for the five facilities of the Auke Bay Laboratories is roughly $8 million annually, he said.

"We have the opportunity to expand here, but not as much as you might think," he said. "We have spaces here for about 110 scientists, and right now we're running at about 85 scientists here."

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho said the new institute is a strong economic engine for the community, in terms of jobs and programs.

"It is a long-term investment in our region," he said.

James Balsiger, senior policy advisor for NOAA fisheries, said the institute is "a symbol of cooperation." He said it took more than 80 federal, state, local and private agencies and businesses to pull together the project, which some said would never happen.

One of the many partnerships praised at Tuesday's dedication was the continued cooperation with the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. A new school is under construction at Lena Point that will continue the partnership, said Denis Wiesenburg, dean of the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

"Our fisheries division is educating the next generations of leaders for Alaska," he said.

The school is expected to be completed in 2008.

Roughly 75 percent of UAF fisheries graduates stay and work in Alaska, Wiesenburg said. Nearly 20 percent of those go on to work for NOAA or other federal agencies, he said.

"We're educating Alaskans in Alaska to manage the Alaska fisheries for the future," Wiesenburg said.

• Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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