Rice out in the field (Courtesy of Sunny Rice)

Sunny Rice works for the Alaska Sea Grant, which is part of a grant program run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Rice has worked as an agent for the marine advisory program for them for 18 years.

Rice walked with KFSK’s Jordan Lewis at the North Harbor in Petersburg and discussed her work.

Sunny Rice: In contrast to a lot of other kind of government jobs, I’d say, the ideas for what needs to get done, the projects that we do come from the bottom up. So it’s our job to reach out to either the community or the industry, and find out what those needs are, and then find the information that they need and deliver it to them or develop trainings and deliver it to them or do bigger projects.

Jordan Lewis: Okay. And so then, how would you set it would vary for Southeast obviously, I mean, looking around here, you know, I mean, granted, we’re in the harbor and so obviously, the waters gonna look different in the harbor, but what are some of the unique sort of things that happen with Sea Grant for Southeast?

SR: I think Southeast is really unique. The work that I and mostly grant people do well, it’s about the sea really tends to be about the people. Southeast Alaska has this sort of network of communities, we don’t have a real hub. Like, for example, the Bristol Bay Area has sort of some hubs, whereas we’re sort of this chain of communities. And that can make us a little bit more disconnected, I think, in some, so in some ways, that makes it more challenging, working with people because you can’t count on them all being able to come into one central location on a regular basis, like you could, I’m in some of those other places. You know, but commercial fishing is big in a lot of parts of Alaska, not just Southeast and a lot of the work that I do is related to commercial fishing.

JL: So I know you were talking about how commercial fisheries is really the area, you specialize a little bit more. Obviously, Petersburg has is a major fishing area. I mean, even as you and I are just walking down the harbor here. I mean, there’s a lot of fishing boats.

SR: Yep, that was sort of when I first started the job. I’m had someone come and talk to me about challenges in getting new entrants into commercial fisheries. And that has guided a good chunk of the work that I’ve done in the 15 odd years of doing it, so and they and and that’s all over the country to find that same challenges all over the country, but it’s going to have different solutions, depending on where you are. And so see, grant would, you know, maybe we would bring research to bear on it, maybe we would just do some training, we found that some fishing business training was probably important. So new people, just getting in needing to have a understanding on the financial aspects of that business. And so we made a website for it. We have some workshops on it, spreadsheets and that kind of stuff. So yeah, it makes this town go for sure.

JL: Gotcha. And then I also saw that least on the Alaska secret lab to the year also a contact in case there’s a Marine Mammal Stranding. So what could you talk to me a bit on that front?

SR: Yeah, so we do Alaska secret does stuff all the way up to Nome, with marine mammals. In Petersburg, I’m part of the Petersburg Marine Mammal Center. And I actually didn’t. I joined the Petersburg Marine Mammal Center a little bit later on. But that group has a mission, again, for Science Education, and I do a lot of that sort of in partnership with Marine Mammal Center and Alaska secret, and then disentanglement and Stranding. So disentanglement is if a good marine mammal is seen, entangled, especially a large whale were trained to go out and address entangled large whale might mean, the most dramatic would be, you know, actually going out in our small boat with our hard hats and our specialized tools and cutting a whale free, it may mean monitoring one, it may mean attaching a telemetry buoy, if the whale is moving too fast, and we can’t get out there.

SR: So that another person later on after the whale is a little bit more tired could do it. So, but we train every year. Usually, there’s at least one a year, but it kind of areas, one or two, a year of actual entanglements that we may go out and approach in one way or another. So, so keeping that we’ve got a volunteer who does a great job of keeping that sort of effort together and getting our training done. And I but I’ve been doing it for a long time. So I just helped provide some connections and another volunteer and other body on the boat. I like to do the communication part. And I like to do the radio telemetry part. And if we do get a buoy, you’re listening to try to find where the where the whale is.

Rice also talked on two upcoming projects for Sea Grant in the area.

SR: Coming up for us our they have discovered an invasive species called the European Green crab and Metlakatla. And I’m going to be working with folks down in southern Southeast to help get some basic training for how to monitor for those green crab and we’ll be needing to keep an eye on them here in Petersburg as well. And then the second one is brought to me by folks from the Alaska Trollers Association. Where the trollers are going to be a two part project, one is resurrecting an old logbook program that they used to have. And that information will help managers this so that the fishermen on the water and all those boats with all of that coverage of the waters of Southeast Alaska, will be collecting information and giving it to the managers. And the second part is a real specific project we’re doing with an oceanographer based out of Fairbanks, where they are monitoring six locations in the inside waters of Southeast every month to get information on conductivity, temperature, and depth. And so there’s a lot of, there’s not a lot, there’s some research that goes on to that in the summer in this neck of the woods, but very little throughout the year. So that’s just going to help provide some great baseline information on the oceanography of this really complicated, you know, waters that we have. There’s work, there’s buoys, etc. on the outside waters, but inside water is pretty complicated. So I’m excited about those two projects.