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Celebrating Women on the Water

March 01, 2021

NOAA Fisheries' West Coast offices share stories of women on the water for Women's History Month 2021.

March is Women’s History Month. This year we asked women of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and West Coast Region, as well as NOAA affiliates and partners, to share stories of early experiences on the water that sparked their curiosity, and that inspired them on a journey to pursue a career at NOAA Fisheries. 

Check out their personal recollections below.


Jennie Franks

West Coast Region

two women wading in a stream, the woman in front electrofishing
Jennie (right) electrofishing in a stream.

I didn’t grow up fishing. I grew up surrounded by corn and soybean fields and 20 miles east of the mighty Mississippi; a river system in which I was told was polluted and its sole purpose was for transportation. After my first year of college, I applied to an internship that was taped to the hallway of the Biology Department. The internship analyzed the effectiveness of stream restoration within southwestern Wisconsin. Walking through cow pastures and wading through channelized streams I could not believe there were actual trout living in there. The first restoration project I surveyed, I was in awe of what people can do to improve habitat. That was the moment I knew I wanted a career in fish habitat restoration.

It didn’t take long to realize where all the innovative projects were occurring, the Pacific Northwest.A few more field jobs, graduate school, and two years in the Peace Corps Service, I relocated. Now I coordinate the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Program that supports salmon habitat restoration. I’m honored to be able to support and share with others the amazing restoration and recovery work that is happening across the West Coast Region. 


Melissa Haltuch

Northwest Fisheries Science Center

smiling girl holding two walleye she's caught in Lake Erie
Melissa holding two walleye she's caught in Lake Erie.

One of my earliest childhood memories of time spent on the water stems from fishing in Ohio impoundments with my brother, father and grandfather, where I excelled at catching catfish. Catching catfish was not my goal! Leaving me to wonder why there were so many catfish. By my teenage years my family had graduated to fishing for Lake Erie walleye and yellow perch. My time spent outside and on the water were some of my most satisfying and memorable, leading me towards work in field biology.

At some point along the way I realized that a lot of people could collect data, fewer knew how to tell a story based on data. I was curious about the intersection between fish, fishing, and the environment, and wanted learn to use data to tell these stories. This curiosity, and a bit of wanderlust, led me from Ohio to Seattle, with many travels along the way, where I am now a Research Fishery Biologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. My research focuses on fisheries stock assessment methods, quantifying environmental effects on population dynamics, projecting climate impacts on fish stocks, and communicating scientific advice to fishery managers. The primary focus for this work is the U.S. West Coast groundfish fishery, where I enjoy building interdisciplinary teams that include graduate students and post-doctoral scholars, to investigate interesting and management relevant issues that stem from NOAA Fisheries core mission.

Learn more about Dr. Melissa Haltuch


Laurel Jennings

NOAA's Restoration Center

smiling little girl steering a boat on a lake
Laurel on a boat in Minnesota.

My family and I drove every summer when I was a girl from swampy Houston, TX to the cool Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota for a long family vacation. We rented a cabin on a lake and enjoyed the relaxed family time together. For my younger brother and me, it was a time to learn how to paddle a canoe, fish for walleye and northern pike, to watch sunsets over the lake, to learn to drive a boat, and to watch water, trees and sky melt together. It was a magical time and place and I hold those memories dear. I know growing up with a connection to a remote and pristine lake influenced how I value habitat restoration and conservation. I value it so much that I have made a career of this work and love what I do. I am a Marine Habitat Resource Specialist working for NOAA's Restoration Center, part of NOAA's Office of Habitat Conservation, from Seattle, WA. I know water to be restorative and regenerative and I am lucky to have experienced such happiness along a lakeshore as a girl. Thanks, Mom and Dad.


Anna Kagley

Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Anna Kagley, NWFSC

I am the daughter of a commercial fisherman. Much of my youth was spent on boats and cannery docks in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. In first grade, I wrote a book about how I wanted to continue the legacy when I grew up (I still have the book) and I hoped to run my own boat someday. Most of the fathers I knew passed on their boats to their sons to continue the family tradition. It was far less common for girls to be considered. So I decided to take a different path that would still let me keep my hands in salt-water and protect salmon as a resource for my children, a better legacy. 

I volunteered for NOAA at 16, was hired to help with the Exxon Valdez response, and stayed employed through High School and College while obtaining my B.S. in Fisheries form the University of Washington. Over 30 years later, as a Research Fishery Biologist, I still consider this my dream job and I still love the fieldwork. Most of my work is monitoring the benefits of habitat restoration/remediation on salmon and forage fish recovery. Today, I am trying hard to mentor the next generation of fishery biologists as my last legacy.

Learn more about Dr. Anna Kagley


Alicia Keefe

West Coast Region

Smiling woman kayaking with her baby near Fox Island, Washington
Alicia kayaking with her daughter near Fox Island, Washington.

Despite growing up in a very landlocked, farming town, my interest in water—and broader environmental issues—was ignited at a young age. In 1999, 14 acres of tires caught fire near my hometown and burned for five days. The resulting contaminants made their way into a nearby creek and killed more than 10,000 fish. At the time, I didn’t have the resources to investigate my concerns and questions about our collective impact on the aquatic environment. Five years later, this curiosity led me to my first environmental studies class where I finally had the opportunity to put the pieces together and dive into some of my burning questions. These experiences led me to pursue a BS in environmental science, and ultimately, a MEd in science education. As the Education and Outreach Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region, I have the privilege of educating our youth about their impact on marine and aquatic environments in the hopes of mitigating issues like this in the future and creating a generation of marine stewards.

Learn more about Alicia Keefe


Su Kim

Northwest Fisheries Science Center

two smiling kids on rocky shore
Su Kim (right) with her grandmother and brother in Westport, Washington.

The best times of my childhood included close proximity to the ocean. Family trips always involved some combination of camping, boating and fishing. We spent many weekends playing in tidepools, catching perch or rockfish, putting out traps for crab or harvesting shellfish. The best meals I've ever had were cooked over a campfire, caught by my father and prepared by mother and grandmother. My fondness for the ocean and marine life is still a big part of my life. Today, I work as a visual designer, where I help fishery biologists at NOAA transform their data into graphics for scientific publications and presentations. If I can make our science more understandable to the public and draw them in for more with a clean, simple visual, I know I've done my job.

Learn more about Su Kim


Mary Moser

Northwest Fisheries Science Center

My interest in fisheries and aquatic science was sparked by early fishing trips with my Aunt Nadine (pictured here with her dachshund for scale) on Lake Michigan, and saltwater fishing trips off the coast of Florida and New York. My aunt and uncle were always ready with a boating trip when I came to visit.

Dr. Mary Moser as a child (left) holding a fish during a fishing trip with her aunt Nadine (on right, with her dachshund for scale).
Dr. Mary Moser as a child (right) holding a fish during a fishing trip with her aunt Nadine.

My parents, outdoorspeople and scientists themselves, further indulged my interest in all things fish and marine related. Early boating trips, vacations at the beach, and fishing adventures led to a lifelong interest in fish behavior, movement, and migration.

My career as a fisheries biologist at NOAA has revolved around these themes, from study of anadromous fish passage at dams to investigation of coastal migration pathways and habitat use by marine species.

I am fortunate to have had strong women in my family that were role models for a career in science and a love of the outdoors.

Learn more about Dr. Mary Moser



Danielle Perez

Northwest Fisheries Science Center

smiling woman in SCUBA gear underwater

Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, I didn’t find myself near the water very much (except the Ohio River, which wouldn’t inspire any burgeoning marine biologist). One day in grade school, my dad took me to visit the Newport Aquarium, and it was watching the biologists monitor the penguins that I decided that was what I wanted to do with my life….and I just never changed my mind. I spent the rest of my grade school and high school years with a one-track mind before attending Coastal Carolina University where I got a degree in Marine Science before interning at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama and then the Reef Environmental Education Foundation in Key Largo. My boyfriend (now husband) got a job offer from Boeing, and, figuring I could find something in Seattle, we moved out here in 2013. The following year I started volunteering in the Ocean Acidification lab with Paul McElhany and have been his lab as a full time contracted researcher since 2014. We mostly work with larval Dungeness crabs, studying how dropping pH levels affect their growth and survival. We’ve also worked with krill, abalone, and pteropods, and hope to continue our experiments when it’s safe to do so again. In non-pandemic times, I also volunteer on the bird and mammal team at the Seattle Aquarium, helping to care for their shorebirds, sea otters, and seals.


Nissa Rudh

West Coast Region

woman in water near a dock wearing snorkel , with fins on the dock
Nissa preparing to snorkel in the waters of the Pacific Northwest.

I grew up in Minnesota. A lake girl. And my family owns a small cabin on Pickerel Lake about a half hour from our home. The best days of summer were spent splashing in the water and catching minnows with a butterfly net. I tended to shred these nets rather quickly because I used them to catch fish, frogs, turtles, etc. When I was old enough to really swim, I donned my goggles and became a part of the aquatic environment! Now, I wore glasses, thick ones (and I still do haha) and when I was under the water swimming with sunfish and bass or diving for clams, I had to take my glasses off. But to my surprise, the refraction in the water made my horrid vision better! I could SEE! Not only was I able to see better, I was looking at the most fascinating environment around! I would stay in until prune-y and ignore my mothers calls for dinner. Snorkeling here in the Pacific Northwest is still my favorite activity, embracing solace and the clarity.


Donielle Stevens

West Coast Region

As a kid, my parents would take my sister and I to explore lakes, rivers, and streams in the wilderness areas of Nevada and California. My dad would flyfish as my mom read a book by the water. My sister and I would be busy catching frogs, lifting rocks to find damsel and mayflies in their hiding places, and climbing up rocky outcrops to find the best view.

One day of significant memory, we were on a stream with catfish. Wading into the water, it was so clear I could see them swimming below me and around my legs. I tried to catch one with my hands, I missed and then missed again. Finally, I felt the slimy body in my hands, I had him! OUCH! I pulled away quickly after a sharp pain rang through my finger. I remember hollering toward my parents, blood rushing down my hand. "It stung me! The catfish stung me!".

father and two girls canoeing in lake
Donielle (middle) with her dad and sister canoeing during a camping trip.

My mom, a nurse, wrapped my hand as the first of my dad's many ecological lessons began. He was quick to correct me, catfish don't sting but rather, my skin had been cut when my finger slipped behind the catfish's pectoral fins, the spiny tips being pointed and very sharp. I had been bested by a catfish - But, it sparked curiosity in fish biology and anatomy, and made me think about fish differently, as having power and agency.

My adventuring didn't slow down and I'm happy I had parents who encouraged me to learn by exploring. I now work on the Communications & External Affairs team at NOAA Fisheries. My career thus far in science & policy communication is all about connecting people to natural resources and ecology, finding bridges in personal experiences and teachable moments.


Jamie Trapp

NOAA Partner

Smiling woman kayaking near glaciers
Jamie kayaking among glaciers.

When I was 18, I left Wisconsin and decided to spend a summer working in Seward, Alaska. I became a sea kayak guide and fell in love with everything about it. It amazed me how it changed from being so beautiful and inviting to angry and dangerous. Paddling through the Kenai Fjords National Park made me deeply respect the wildlife, the glaciers, and the simplicity of the wild, open water. I remember sitting in front of a massive tidewater glacier in my kayak; feeling dwarfed by its size and power. It had the ability to take down anyone, any boat who got too close. I became addicted, and I've never really left Seward. I wanted to learn everything about the ocean; how to coexist with it, care for it, and advocate for it. 7 years later, I am an avid paddler on the ocean and rivers, I deckhand on a boat in Greenland, and I'm pursuing a captains license. This spring I will join 2 California gals on a source to sea pack rafting trip of the Sacramento River. Along our journey, we will connect with various stakeholders (including some of NOAA's scientists!) and produce a film that shares the different voices of the Sacramento River and their relationship to the water. We also hope to encourage more women into paddling sports and to share their passions!

Last updated by Northwest Fisheries Science Center on March 01, 2021