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Milestones: Resource Assessment & Conservation Engineering Division (RACE)

Russ Nelson Retires With 36 Years of Federal Service

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RACE Division Director Russ Nelson (right) with Center Deputy Director Steve Ignell.

Russ Nelson, Director of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering Division, retired in January 2013 with 36 years of  federal service. For the many of us who have worked with Russ during the course of those years, three words come to mind when reflecting upon his rich and lasting legacy at the Center.

The first word is generosity. Russ’s door was always open to all of us despite our position or concern. He was generous with his time and counsel and gracious in his relationships, displaying the rare ability to empathize with the needs and perspective of all parts and people that make up the Center. The second word is excellence-- excellence in all things administrative, scientific, and managerial. (We’ve coined a term “WWRD” (what would Russ do?) that we have applied throughout the years and will continue to do so in his absence.) The third is teamwork. Russ has been the consummate team player on the Center leadership team, with the  unusual ability to represent the RACE Division, yet keep an eye towards the larger picture of the Center as a whole. To borrow a basketball concept, Russ has been in many ways like the most valuable player, adding to his own excellence with the ability to make everyone better around him.

Russ began his career with the National Marine Fisheries Service as a fishery research biologist with the Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center’s Foreign Fishery Observer Program after completing a graduate degree in fisheries at the University of Washington in 1977. In 1982 he was appointed program manager of the Observer Program. In that position he led the implementation of 100% observer coverage of the foreign fishing fleet beginning in 1983, observer coverage of high-seas driftnet fisheries, and worked with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the fishing industry on the development and implementation of the current North Pacific Domestic Observer Program for Alaska groundfish fisheries.

Russ was appointed Division Deputy Director of the RACE Division in 1993 where he worked closely with other offices within NOAA, the fishing industry, academic institutions, and state fishery agencies towards establishing and advancing a broad array of research and survey efforts on Alaskan groundfish and crab. Under his leadership, the RACE Division has conducted a multitude of stock assessment surveys and research cruises on both NOAA ships and chartered commercial fishing vessels. Russ worked closely with the Alaskan fishing industry in the chartering of vessels and on cooperative research projects with industry and with NOAA’s Marine and Aviation Operations to schedule cruise time on NOAA ships.

Russ took over as RACE Division Director in 2006, directing a program of over 120 staff that comprised fishery and oceanography research scientists, geneticists, pathobiologists, technicians, IT specialists, fishery equipment specialists, administrative support staff, and contract research associates located in Seattle, Washington, Kodiak, Alaska, and in Newport, Oregon. Under Russ’ oversight, this diverse group conducted world-class quantitative fishery surveys and related ecological and oceanographic research directed at commercially and ecologically important fish and crab stocks in the eastern Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, Gulf of Alaska, and more recently the Arctic, and cooperative research efforts to investigate technologies and techniques to reduce bycatch, bycatch mortality and the effects of fishing on habitat.

Throughout this impressive career, Russ has served as a superb mentor, showing us the way not only in the excellence of scientific leadership and management, but also in the more fundamental aspects of being a genuinely “good person.” While a new term is evolving here—-“WWWDWR” (what will we do without Russ?)—we are comforted that his legacy will remain in the Center workplace for many years to come.

By Steve Ignell, Guy Fleisher, and Susan Calderón.




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