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Knauss Fellowship: Kelly Thrives in Alaska Fisheries Management after Knauss Fellowship

Knauss Fellowship: Kelly Thrives in Alaska Fisheries Management after Knauss Fellowship

Bringing Home Lessons from the Knauss Fellowship

By Lauren Frisch, Alaska Sea Grant

Working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the mid-2000s, Alaska’s Seanbob Kelly realized he didn’t understand how fisheries policies were formed. This sparked his interest in ocean policy and inspired him to apply for the Sea Grant Knauss Marine Policy fellowship. 

Raised in Juneau, Kelly had a strong interest in Alaska’s fisheries early on, which led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in fisheries and a master’s degree in fisheries oceanography from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Kelly was selected as a 2008 Knauss fellow and placed in the Washington, DC, area with the National Marine Fisheries Service in the Office of Sustainable Fisheries Domestic Fisheries Division. His fellowship started soon after the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary US law governing marine fisheries. During his fellowship, Kelly had the opportunity to help refine national standards for fisheries nationwide. He learned how laws and regulations that guide fisheries managers are formed. 

Alaska Sea Grant 2008 Knauss Fellow Seanbob Kelly. Image: Sarah Allen, NOAA National Ocean Service.

“We quickly got him helping out on a report to Congress, the Status of US Fisheries, an annual report on stocks that are overfished or subject to overfishing,” said Regina Spallone, a fisheries management specialist in the Domestic Fisheries Division.

Kelly developed a way to analyze trends in fish stocks, which was used to show progress in the rebuilding of stocks. The analysis became a regular tool in the Domestic Fisheries Division, and is still used in the annual status report sent to Congress.

“For many years, the analysis was simply referred to as ‘The Seanbob Analysis,’ as in, ‘It’s time to put together the data for the report to Congress. Let’s get the latest assessment numbers so we can update the Seanbob Analysis,”’ Spallone said.

After spending a year as a Knauss fellow in DC, Kelly got a job with the NMFS regional Office of Sustainable Fisheries in Juneau. Recently, he moved to Anchorage for a new position with the NMFS Habitat Conservation Division. 

While in Juneau, Kelly focused on the management of sustainable fisheries in Alaska. His new position with the habitat division focuses more on managing impacts to essential fish habitats and enhancing those habitats when possible. This includes giving out grants for habitat restoration, removing dams and increasing wetlands.

Kelly said the fellowship prepared him to work more effectively back in Alaska. Rather than creating policies, Kelly now focused on implementing them. “Learning about the policy process helped me fill in the blanks and realize how I could help out at a regional level even better,” Kelly said.  

In his new position with the habitat division, Kelly is excited to work on management plans for oil spill response and recovery. To facilitate the development of those plans, Kelly works with decision-makers and responders including the US Coast Guard, state representatives, nongovernmental organizations and industry representatives. His goal is to make sure our resources are protected and fishermen are notified when spills happen. 

Kelly has also had the opportunity to conduct fieldwork in Nome, using drone vessels and sonar equipment to study the effects of mining on king crab habitats and on other animals that live on the ocean floor. He enjoys being able to work in the field again, as well as the opportunity to do research and use new technology.

Kelly can’t imagine where his career path would have taken him had he not participated in the Knauss fellowship. “The fellowship is so worthwhile. It’s taken my experience up a notch and definitely enhanced my career enjoyment.”

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