Researchers honored for work in UCSC-NOAA Fisheries Collaborative Program

rebecca-miller-350.jpg
Rebecca Miller
heather-welch-300.jpg
Heather Welch
joe-kiernan-300.jpg
Joseph Kiernan

Three researchers affiliated with the Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS) at UC Santa Cruz have received awards from the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center for their outstanding contributions to research in 2019. These awards reflect the groundbreaking research being conducted through the Fisheries Collaborative Program, which brings together UCSC and NOAA scientists to conduct research for the conservation and management of California’s living marine resources.

“These awardees are helping to make UCSC a leader in coastal ecology, fisheries management, and conservation,” said Eric Palkovacs, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and associate director of the Fisheries Collaborative Program.

Rebecca Miller

Rebecca Miller, an IMS associate specialist, received the National Marine Fisheries Service Team Member of the Year Award in the Program Management/ Scientific/Technical, GS 1-10 or pay band equivalent category. Miller’s research focuses on historical fisheries catches and the spatiotemporal abundance patterns of a variety of marine fishes and invertebrates in the California Current.

Miller’s most recent work evaluated the abundance of Pyrosoma atlanticum, a pelagic tunicate species that forms cylindrical-shaped colonies composed of thousands of tiny individuals. During and after the 2015-16 Large Marine Heatwave, these historically rare pyrosomes were encountered in very high abundance throughout the California Current. Very little is known about pyrosomes, as they are typically found in low densities in the world’s tropical and subtropical oceans. When environmental conditions are favorable, however, they undergo exponential population growth leading to mass occurrences that are likely to have significant consequences on energy flow and community structure.

Heather Welch

Heather Welch, an IMS associate specialist, received the National Marine Fisheries Service Team Member of the Year Award in the Program Management/ Scientific/Technical, GS 11-15 or pay band equivalent category. Welch was recognized for her exemplary leadership and high productivity in developing and implementing ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) tools in support of NOAA's mission to maintain sustainable fisheries and reduce risk to protected species. She made significant contributions to the development of EcoCast, a near-real-time tool to optimize fisheries potential and reduce bycatch in the California Drift Gillnet Fishery. This was the first dynamic ocean management application to a U.S. fishery on the West Coast.

Welch also led the operationalization of WhaleWatch, which combines blue whale tracking data with satellite observations to produce near-real-time habitat suitability maps and reduce ship-strike risk in southern California waters. In addition to her pioneering efforts in developing EBFM tools, she led several high-profile publications and successful grant proposals.

Joseph Kiernan

Joseph Kiernan, a NOAA research ecologist with an IMS researcher affiliation, received the National Marine Fisheries Service Employee of the Year Award in the Program Management/ Scientific/Technical, GS 11-15 or pay band equivalent category. Kiernan has made important contributions to the stewardship and conservation of protected salmon and steelhead in Scott Creek and nearby watersheds, as well as significant improvements to data collection methods and record-keeping practices. He was recognized for his stewardship of coho salmon and steelhead in Scott Creek and nearby watersheds of the Santa Cruz Mountains, leadership and perseverance in the face of ongoing uncertainty about funding for the Scott Creek monitoring effort and coho salmon broodstock program, and major contributions to grant writing, related manuscripts, and development of a Hatchery Genetic Management Plan for Scott Creek’s Kingfisher Flat Hatchery.