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Celebrating Women on the Water on the West Coast

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 or in public service.

Check out their personal recollections below.

Andrea Berry

West Coast Region

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black and white photo of a very young girl in a bathing suit on the shore

It was my father who took us- me, my sisters, and my grandmother, to the beach every summer. He loved the ocean. I remembered the old days at the beach: father videoing us using his 1960s movie camera while we sisters built sand castles, swam in the ocean, and performed funny skits. Those were the good old days! After he passed away, my sister threw some of my father’s ashes into the ocean. During my leisure time, I love to travel! My fond memories include: arriving by helicopter to trek in Alaska's largest consortium of glaciers; climbing 600 steep steps at Skellig Michael Island to see the beehive huts; backpacking in Europe for a month; and snorkeling in the Caribbean Seas. This July 2021, will be my 31st year of working for the federal government. Having lived in several, diverse regions of the county, I have enjoyed working for a variety of agencies. During my 17.5 years of partnering with NOAA Fisheries, I have thoroughly enjoyed working not only in my role as an Admin Support Assistant but also as a servant to protect and preserve Mother Earth by reducing, reusing and recycling; volunteering for cleanups in rivers and ocean; conserving water; and planting trees.

Elissa Connolly-Randazzo

NOAA Pathways Intern, West Coast Region

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smiling young woman in front of a sunset sky

In 2014, I was offered an opportunity as a Student Conservation Association Intern for the Dry Tortugas National Park. While I had previous opportunities relevant to my marine science degree, this experience required me to live off the grid on a remote island where I witnessed amazing wildlife and valued the resources available to me. The lifestyle required me to create my own drinking water, conserve electricity in case there was an overcast day for the outdated solar panels, and compost any scraps. The island consisted of two small buildings, a reserve-osmosis water filtration system and a vacant lighthouse as well as nights where I was completely alone. Every morning and evening, I walked around the perimeter of the island to stumble across the rare wildlife that resided on or migrated through the park. Many terns and warblers used it as their resting place, female sea turtles slowly crawled up the beach to lay their egg clutches, and numerous fish seek refuge in the rarely disturbed reef off shore. I was in wonder and driven to better protect natural resources so others may witness the amazing wildlife and marine habitats the ocean has to offer.

Now I serve as a Pathways Student Intern for the Long Beach California office, assisting in the reviewing process related to the California Eelgrass Mitigation Policy (CEMP). My duties aim to understand how external consulting agencies interpret the CEMP and help with the next revision so eelgrass, an essential fish habitat, can be successfully mitigated and continue to support wildlife. 

Jennie Franks

West Coast Region

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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

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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

Norma Hinton

West Coast Region

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woman standing in front of a lake with her husband

I grew up in San Francisco, CA and my very young memories were going fishing almost every weekend with my mom at Lake Merced, definitely a man-made lake by the beach in San Francisco but still full of trout and fun. My mom was a heavy fisher woman, and we often went to the beach so my mom could fish for whatever was in the ocean, she always brought a kids swimming pool which us kids would say is that for us and she would say NO it is for the large fish I am going to catch. And she always did. I love fishing and did it for years also when I moved to Arizona where we would go to the White Mountains and go fishing. I got married in Lakeside, Arizona by the lake while staying in a cabin there, and fishing right after our ceremony. It was called Lazy Oaks and is a beautiful place to be. I have always enjoyed fishing from my early years to now. I do not go in the water, I have Aquaphobia, (don't laugh, it's real). I have never been in an ocean or lake my whole life, but I can throw a mean cast and catch some fish from the shore.

Laurel Jennings

NOAA's Restoration Center

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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.

Frankie Johnson

West Coast Region

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mother and young daughter smiling on a shore

I grew up in Eastern Kentucky, so I did not know what an actual ocean looked like until I was around 13 years old. Prior to that my only experience with water was playing in creeks and rivers, and fishing or swimming in the Kentucky River or tributaries. I spent many days catfishing with my stepdad and romping along the shores gathering discarded and tangled up fishing line and a good sturdy stick to make a pole because "I was too young to have a real pole" as my Dad said. One of my fondest memories was when I was around 11 and we went fishing after a big flood of the river and my dad was using his fancy pole as I went searching for a stick and some line when I ran across a hole that had been filled with the flood water and noticed movement. I proceeded to get my stick, some line, and then pulled out 5 large catfish with my hands that had been left behind when the flood water receded back to the river. I strung them up and walked back to where my dad was with my stick pole and discarded line attached in one hand and that string of catfish in the other. How I actually caught them fish remained a secret for a few years, but the next time we went fishing I was sporting a brand new fancy fishing pole. My catch with my little stick pole: 5, Dad with his fancy pole: 0.  We still laugh about that today!

Anna Kagley

Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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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

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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

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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.

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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

Katrina Poremba

NOAA Partner

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young girl on the oregon shore with her father, holding a red bucket.

I am currently an Intern Field Technician for the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, with Degrees in Conservation Biology, Marine Biology, and Zoology. I currently assist in conserving streams and rivers that flow into the Columbia River. I grew up on a small farm in Idaho and every summer my family would take vacations to the Oregon Coast, where I fell in love with the ocean. My Godmother lived in San Diego, and every year I would fly down and visit her too. I always looked forward to these vacations and being able to running in the waves. It was a time I was able to play and have fun, and not worry about other things in life. I knew at a young age I wanted to live near the water and work with it. I attended college as undergraduate in Northern California, where I could do just that and have continued to push to live and work near the water ever since. I have always found coastlines, lakes, and rivers calming and exciting. Being able to live and work in area that allows me to be adventurous and relaxed is something I cherish.

Danielle Perez

Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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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

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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.

Sarah Russo

NOAA Partner

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woman swimming near a raft full of people

I am an Americorps intern through the Mount Adams Institute VetsWork Environment program for the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership in Portland Oregon. Growing up on Whidbey Island I am pulled towards a passion for the Pacific Ocean, however I have much respect for the strong waters of the Columbia river and its feeders. As a teenager I went on a white-water rafting trip with my mom on the White Salmon river where we went through category 5 rapids and over Husum waterfall. Before we got on the water, we were given a quick safety tutorial. Our raft turned the wrong way while going over the waterfall and the edge of the raft where I was sitting was sucked beneath the falls. I was ripped out of the raft and trapped beneath the water being pulled in every direction by the currents. I remembered our training that morning and I curled up into a ball and was able to move into a single current where I was quickly pulled back up to the surface. I swam as hard as I could back to the raft where my panicked mom pulled me out of the water and into the raft in a single swipe of her arm. After my experience on the river, I found a new passion for freshwater and am now working towards a career protecting these wild waters in the Columbia river gorge region.

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!".

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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.

Tillie Smith

NOAA Intern

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young girl in bathing suit with arms raised, posing happily for the camera

Crosby-Ironton, a small Northern-Minnesotan town with a population less than 3,000 and the hometown of my dad. During the summer as a child, we spent countless weekends here, swimming in the crystal clear, spring-fed mine pit lakes. I was always creeped out by the tree remnants that haunted the depths of the lakes, but was enthralled watching my dad “climb” the trees below me. During our water-related travels, my dad taught me how to manage my energy should I get swept away by the current, how to let the water guide me to shore instead of fighting the current. I grew up in the water, yet somehow forgot the important role that the freshwater ecosystems had in shaping me. At 18, I left the midwest, and dutifully followed where the United States Air Force sent me. I was trained as an aircraft mechanic and had the pleasure of traveling across Japan and the majority of Europe in my six years as an enlisted military member. Despite the glamour and pride that came with living abroad and being a part of such a powerful and vast entity, I knew my passions lie elsewhere. While out-processing and dialing in my civilian trajectory, I reflected on how important nature had been in my own life. And I wanted to ensure that my footprint would be one shaped with gratitude and respect for what our Earth provides us with. Through my internship in marine restoration, I am now connecting my childhood bond with water and my adult appreciation for the complexities of Earth’s largest aquatic ecosystems.

Jamie Trapp

NOAA Partner

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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!

Mary Whiting

West Coast Region

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close up of couple walking on the beach

I am an Administrative Assistant at NOAA Fisheries. Growing up in Michigan, my life was closely tied to the Great Lakes. Lake Michigan seemed more like an ocean than a lake to me. The sand was wonderful. They called it "sugar sand" and it squeaks when you walk on it. I used to love going with my parents on their cabin cruiser to fish. My dad created magic with white fish cooking it with butter and a lot of garlic. I'd eat it in spite of the bones. Sometimes I was allowed to dive off the boat and swim. I loved to swim and it was hard to keep me out of the water and lakes were everywhere. I always loved the sights and sounds around the water including the foghorns in the distance. When I hear them now, I feel at home. A few years ago we visited family and went to the beach of Lake Michigan in Grand Traverse bay. That was my intro into the damage the zebra mussels are doing. It made me think that later generations may not have the same experiences I had. I am not a biologist, but I share this story with the understanding of how important the work is and how thankful I am for it.