2019 Partners in the Spotlight Awards
In 2019, we recognized these partners who have expanded and enhanced recovery of our most imperiled marine species.
Atlantic Salmon: John Banks, Penobscot Indian Nation
Thanks to John’s tenacity, leadership, and support, the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, the Penobscot Nation, state agencies, communities, and federal partners, led the successful removal of Veazie Dam and Great Works Dam and the decommissioning of Howland Dam. The Penobscot River Restoration Project improved access to hundreds of miles of habitat in the Penobscot River watershed and improved the chances that Atlantic salmon can recover in Maine.
As a member of the U.S. delegation to NASCO, John helped negotiate the regulatory measure that substantially improved the monitoring and control of the fishery off Greenland from 2015 to 2017, which laid the groundwork for reducing the Atlantic salmon catch off Greenland for 2018 to 2020. Atlantic salmon are a culturally foundational species to the Penobscot Nation and are central to the tribe’s history, ceremony, and sustenance. John carried the message of the importance of salmon to the Penobscot Nation, which was essential to the successful negotiation of that regulatory measure in 2015.
John has been an influential voice in the salmon community for almost 40 years. He has been integral to implementation of programs that have afforded significant conservation benefits to Atlantic salmon and sea-run fish in the Penobscot River. The river is one of the last strongholds for Atlantic salmon in the United States.
Central California Coast Coho Salmon: Russian River Coho Salmon Hatchery Team
They conducted a complete and intensive habitat and fish survey of the basin, and documented the dire situation for coho salmon. Then, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife led a rescue effort of the last coho salmon in the basin. The Army Corps constructed and owned the steelhead mitigation hatchery. It quickly funded and installed six additional round tanks solely dedicated to the rearing of coho salmon.
Since 2001, the Coho Salmon Hatchery Team has been increasing operations and staffing the facility to meet the expanding scope and need of the recovery efforts. In 2006, Marin County coho salmon were integrated into the program to diversify broodstock genetics. In 2008, surplus hatchery juveniles and adults were reintroduced to Walker and Salmon Creeks along the Sonoma/Marin Coast where they were locally extinct. In 2011, the Army Corps funded the hatchery expansion, staffing, and operations to accommodate and care for more adult and juvenile coho salmon.
In 2014, a record drought hit the region. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife partnered with the National Park Service to capture and rear rescued Marin County juvenile coho salmon. They were released as adults to supplement 2016 to 2018 spawning populations. In 2017, the Army Corps and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife together submitted a hatchery genetic management plan to NOAA Fisheries, formalizing the plans for a Regional Coho Salmon Conservation Hatchery Program. In 2018, 17 years after the first Russian River rescue, the team formed a new partnership with The Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Fund, and the Mendocino Redwood Company. Together, they will capture and rear Mendocino Coast coho salmon from the Garcia and Navarro Rivers.
Since the inception of the Coho Salmon Conservation Program, hatchery releases have grown from 6,000 to 200,000 coho salmon annually. The team has cooperatively built a separate facility and hired permanent staff. They have dedicated additional funds, resources, and energy towards a partnership that now spans the entire Central California Coast coho salmon evolutionary significant unit. As a result, the Russian River and Redwood Creek coho salmon populations were saved from local extinction. Abundance has grown from a low in the teens to more than 100 fish.
In addition, coho salmon were successfully reintroduced to several watersheds where coho had been locally extinct—and natural reproduction is now occurring. The Coho Salmon Hatchery Team serves four counties (Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino, and Santa Cruz) and seven different Central California Coast coho salmon populations. The team also assists the Southern Coho Salmon Captive Broodstock Program at the southern end of the Central California Coast range. The Russian River Coho Salmon Hatchery Team have been consistently dedicated to coho salmon recovery in the area for more than 15 years.
Cook Inlet Beluga Whales: Sue Goodglick, Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Sue jumped in with both feet and never looked back. Her commitment, passion, out-of-the-box thinking, can-do attitude, humility, humor, and uncanny attention to detail all greatly contributed to the success of Belugas Count! She helped make it a much-anticipated annual public event. Sue created a cohesive Belugas Count! partnership of more than 20 diverse groups, from industry to non-governmental organizations. She never hesitates to go the extra mile and has overcome her fear of live TV and very early mornings to take one for the team, twice!
She is usually the first to volunteer for outreach events to promote beluga conservation such as Potter Marsh Discovery Day. Sue also co-chairs (with NOAA Fisheries) the Outreach Committee of the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Recovery Implementation Task Force. The purpose of the Task Force is to advise us and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on issues related to Cook Inlet beluga whale recovery. This includes recommending practicable and effective ways to implement the 2016 recovery plan for the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale. In this role, she has:
- Increased communication and coordination between agencies and stakeholders working to recover Cook Inlet beluga whales
- Promoted open and constructive discussion of ideas and information
- Kept the committee moving forward and making steady progress.
Hawaiian Monk Seals: U.S. Coast Guard, District 14
Monk seals are found across the Hawaiian archipelago, including the remote and uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. They may need to be transported to or from our facilities on the island of Oahu or The Marine Mammal Center’s Ke Kai Ola facility on the island of Hawaii. There, they can receive surgical or medical interventions, long-term care, or rehabilitation. Options for moving large animals between islands are limited, especially when time is of the essence or the location is remote and difficult to access.
The partnership between the U.S. Coast Guard and the Pacific Islands Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program was formalized in 2008. Since 2008, the U.S. Coast Guard has been able to respond to more than 50 requests to transport seals between islands. This includes a record-setting transport of seven female monk seals from Hawaii Island to Oahu in April 2016 following nearly 7 months of rehabilitation.
These efforts translate into an excess of $450,000 in dedicated operational and staff support. The partnership is truly one of a kind, and is mutually beneficial. U.S. Coast Guard pilots need to log a certain number of hours in the air per year. Transporting the seals not only contributes to the training requirement, but also potentially saves the life of the animals on board. It also provides an educational and rewarding encounter with monk seals for the U.S. Coast Guard members involved.
North Atlantic Right Whale: North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium
The Consortium fosters data sharing by providing access to various data contributed by investigators. This effort is critical to furthering our knowledge of North Atlantic right whales. Annual meetings of the Consortium provide a unique opportunity to bring partners together to share management and scientific information across the species’ range. Partnerships represented by those in the Consortium are critical to North Atlantic right whale recovery.
Pacific Leatherbacks: Red Laud del Oceano Pacifico Oriental
With the precipitous decline in nesting over the past few decades, information collection, data sharing, and coordinated conservation action are critical to reverse this trend. Over the last decade, the Eastern Pacific Leatherback Network, or Red Laúd del Océano Pacífico Oriental (“Laúd OPO”) in Spanish, has brought together scientists and conservation practitioners across the Eastern Pacific to compile and synthesize key nesting and fisheries bycatch data. The Laúd OPO network initiated a regional bycatch assessment. Based on this information, Laúd OPO has identified the most critical conservation actions to be taken by local and national governments.
Further, representatives from the Laúd OPO network have worked to educate international treaty organizations, including the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC) and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). Due to the perseverance of the members of Laúd OPO, the IAC Parties have adopted a resolution on the Conservation of Eastern Pacific leatherback sea turtles. The IAC Secretariat and members of the Laúd OPO network have worked together to provide critical information to the IATTC on the need to reduce bycatch of Eastern Pacific leatherbacks.
Laúd OPO has served as a critical link from local conservation groups to national and international organizations. Through the Laúd OPO network, the tireless work of many scientists and conservationists to save Eastern Pacific leatherbacks continues to be amplified in the larger international community.
Sacramento River Winter-Run Chinook Salmon: Randi Field, Bureau of Reclamation
Winter-run Chinook salmon eggs and fry are vulnerable to summer heat. They persist because of the careful operations of the limited cold-water pool deep in Shasta Reservoir. Improved management of Shasta Reservoir coldwater storage is a key action in the 5-year action plan.
With Randi in the lead, the Bureau of Reclamation successfully completed two operational study years in 2017 and 2018. They demonstrated that a new temperature regime had positive results on egg and fry survival.
In an extraordinary commitment to the survival of this endangered species, Randi took swift action as the uncontained Summer 2018 Carr Fire swept towards and burned over the Sacramento River. Salmon had laid their vulnerable eggs in the river. Bureau of Reclamation staff scrambled to protect Shasta Reservoir infrastructure and ensure employee safety. Randi quickly gave expert instructions on temperature control operations that could be locked in place as the facilities were evacuated. Thanks to her expertise and quick action, they maintained suitable temperatures in the river for salmon until the fire was eventually controlled.
Southern Resident Killer Whales: Washington State Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force
The creation of this Task Force highlighted the urgency for action, raised awareness, and brought diverse stakeholders together. It also resulted in a new commitment from Washington State to be a leader in the recovery of the Southern Residents. This step recognized the whales’ endangered status, declining population trend, and risk of extinction. Southern Resident Killer Whales face three primary threats: insufficient prey, high levels of contaminants, and disturbance from vessels and sound.
Led by co-chairs Stephanie Solien and Les Purce, the Task Force brought together 50 key partners, including state representatives; tribal, federal, and local governments; the whale watching industry; and non-profit organizations. These partners provide expertise and a variety of perspectives.
The Task Force appointed three technical working groups to focus on each of the main threats. The working groups reviewed existing scientific information and provided initial suggestions and evaluations of recommendations. These recommendations then went to the Task Force for consideration and discussion. They drew on existing plans for Southern Residents, as well as plans for salmon recovery and Puget Sound restoration efforts. This information guided development of recommended actions to support recovery. NOAA Fisheries participated on the Task Force and the working groups. We provided our latest research, technical expertise, and experience from more than a decade of implementation of our Endangered Species Act Recovery Plan for Southern Residents. The Task Force also heard from many members of the public who attended the six Task Force meetings and provided thousands of comments.
The Task Force submitted a report to the Governor with 36 recommendations that included regulatory, voluntary, enforcement, research, and outreach activities. Many of the activities require specific legislation and funding to implement in the state. The report identified areas where the state could complement existing federal agency actions. The Governor’s office also requested an unprecedented state investment to support recovery efforts. The operating, capital, and transportation budgets requested for 2019–2021 included a combined $1.1 billion in investments to help Southern Residents. The funding would complement ongoing federal, state and local efforts to recover salmon.
Governor Inslee, the Task Force chairs and members, working groups, and public participants all deserve recognition. They shined a brighter and bolder spotlight on Southern Resident killer whales, aggressively championing their cause, and engaging residents in opportunities to contribute to the whales’ recovery.
White Abalone: Amanda Bird, Paua Marine Research Group
That was when Amanda and a small group of dedicated underwater researchers identified a remnant wild population of white abalone in San Diego County. This paved the way for future restoration work. In January 2016, Amanda founded Paua Marine Research Group, a marine and estuarine biological consulting firm, in San Diego, California. The Paua Marine Research Group provides expertise in biological sampling and habitat conservation to support the effective management of marine resources on the West Coast.
Paua Marine Research Group is a certified small women-owned business enterprise. It has developed strong collaborations with federal and state governmental organizations, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and other consulting companies. It provides comprehensive and effective marine resource management strategies to the larger white abalone conservation collaborative.
Amanda has coupled excellent underwater skills with creative and innovative scientific techniques. This has allowed us to better understand the habitat needs of white abalone and develop a strategic approach to identifying and establishing restoration sites. Her kindness, intellect, commitment, and passion are responsible for forging and maintaining productive relationships. These relationships advance technological methods for monitoring white abalone (e.g., time-lapse cameras, scuba, and closed-circuit rebreathers), They also improve data management and scientific interpretation of laboratory and field data.
Amanda never hesitates to go beyond the call of duty to help out with all logistical aspects of making the white abalone program a success. This ranges from setting up rearing systems, to pouring concrete for outplant modules, to 12-hour-plus workdays in the field. Amanda’s skill set is so diverse, and her ability to think about details, promote safety, and use creative approaches to solve problems, make her an ideal Partner in the Spotlight.