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Kodiak Laboratory Moves to New Research Facility

(Quarterly Report for Jan-Feb-March 1999)

by Robert Otto

image of Kodiak Fisheries Research Center (86985 bytes)
The Kodiak Fisheries Research Center on Near Island sits on seven acres overlooking Trident Basin.

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) personnel from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC), the Alaska Regional Office (ARO), and the Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC)  moved into new office and laboratory facilities at the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center (KFRC) on Near Island  in Kodiak, Alaska, in October 1998. The $19.4 million-research facility is owned  by the Kodiak Island Borough and leased to NMFS, the National Park Service,  the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), and the University of Alaska. The Kodiak Fisheries Research Center was conceived as a means of providing much-needed office and laboratory space for fisheries research in Kodiak within a common location, thereby facilitating interaction among NMFS, University of Alaska, and ADF&G scientists along with the participation of visiting scientists for the enhancement of further research.

At the NMFS level, the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center houses portions of five programs.  The ARO’s Kodiak Office of the Sustainable Fisheries  Division disseminates information concerning regulations, openings, closures, and the progress of fisheries.  The AFSC’s Kodiak field office of the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program debriefs observers upon their return from fishing vessel trips to gather information on the species and size composition of the catch and to ensure that data were properly collected and recorded. The AFSC’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML) will occupy the building seasonally to conduct specialized biological research on harbor seals and Steller sea lions. The AFSC’s Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering Division (RACE) plans to begin a groundfish program at the Kodiak Laboratory soon.  The NWFSC’s Resource Enhancement and Utilization Technologies (REUT) Laboratory develops and tests improved methods of processing seafood. The AFSC’s Shellfish Assessment Program conducts and reports results of surveys designed to establish time series estimates of the distribution and abundance of crabs and other commercial shellfish resources in Alaska. The program is the largest component of NMFS research in the building and the largest research program at the new facility.


Kodiak is home port to an active fishing fleet with a long history of interest in fishery research. It  has served as a base for marine research carried out by the University of Washington, the U. S. Navy, and several nations including Japan, Poland, and Russia. With the establishment of salmon research and management programs in the early 1930s, Kodiak became an important base for Federal fisheries activities.  In 1940, a special  act of Congress funded a king crab exploratory fishing and research program that was instrumental in developing extremely valuable crab fisheries around Kodiak and in the eastern Bering Sea. Exploratory fishing and research for shellfish in the Gulf of Alaska provided part of the basis for establishing large shrimp fisheries as well as scallop fisheries. The North Pacific Shellfish Assessment Program moved to Kodiak in 1971 along with portions of the Juneau Exploratory Fishing and Gear Research Program and the Ketchikan Fish Products Technology Laboratory. The AFSC’s Shellfish Assessment Program and the NWFSC’s Utlization Research Laboratory were housed in the U.S. Coast Guard Support Center in the early 1970s and the NMFS Enforcement Program in the Gibson Cove facility. With the passage of the Fisheries Management and Conservation Act in 1976, the development of enormous groundfish  fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea made a NMFS research facility in Kodiak a strategic necessity.

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The Shellfish Assessment Program was housed in the U.S. Coast Guard's Kodiak Support Center from the early 1970s until October 1998.

The value of fishery products landed annually in Kodiak has ranked Kodiak as one of the nation’s top three ports in each of the past 10 years. By consequence, development of adequate research  facilities was seen as a means to foster needed biological research on species that provide much of U.S. landings. Support from the Kodiak community for developing continued fisheries research at both the state and Federal level has been strong. The City of Kodiak donated 7.1 acres of land on Near Island in 1986 for the construction of the University of Alaska’s Fishery Industrial Technology Center (FITC) and reserved an additional 17 acres for further development of fisheries research facilities on an expanded  campus. The Kodiak Island Borough managed the financing and construction for the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center on approximately 7 of these 17 acres. Groundbreaking ceremonies, graciously sponsored by Kodiak native corporations, took place in June 1996. The Aleutiiq Museum provided anthropological consulting for the proper investigation and removal of artifacts from a small prehistoric site.

Buildings and Laboratories

The KFRC was designed to provide a multi-agency marine research facility that would foster marine fishery research as well as serve as a resource for providing educational opportunities to the Kodiak community as a whole.  The facility consists of three buildings: a pump house, housing for visiting researchers and students, and the main building, which includes offices, laboratories and special purpose areas. Located on Near Island within the City of Kodiak on a tract of land between Trident Way and Trident Basin, the KFRC  is connected to the City of Kodiak by a single arch bridge. All buildings were designed by ECI/Hyer - NBBJ Associated Architects in concert with five additional specialized firms.  Design criteria included consideration of blending with the natural landscape, optimizing views, and a southern exposure to maximize use of scarce daylight in winter.  The building was also designed to fit in with the general architecture of the community and the adjacent FITC.  The site is hilly and covered with a mixture of spruce forest and meadows of salmon berry, grass, ferns, and wildflowers. The site descends from a maximum of 196 feet to sea level on Trident Basin. Footings for the  first floor of the main building are at 85 feet. The main building,  70-stall parking lot, and visiting scientist’s quarters are all between the 80 and 100 ft contours. The site, along with the islands on the seaward side of Trident Basin, provides protection from tsunamis that can accompany earthquakes in the region.

The Main Building

The main building of the KFRC contains offices, laboratories and support areas. The building is designed so that laboratory and display areas that are fed by running seawater or involve moving large samples (sea lions,  bears, totes of fish) are located on the first floor.  Areas for offices, general laboratory work, computer operations, conferences, and the W. F. Thompson Memorial Library are located on the second floor. The  W. F.  Thompson Memorial Library (1,800 sq ft) maintains about 16,000 volumes of fishery journals, books and other publications.  This is the only technical fishery library in western Alaska and serves scientists from NMFS, the University of Alaska, and the ADF&G  as well as  the Kodiak Island Borough school system and  the general public.

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A large, oval aquarium is used for display, education, and research.

The main building of the new Kodiak facility is equipped with an emergency generator, so that long-term experiments are not disrupted by a failure of the seawater system during power outages. The building’s braced steel frame is designed to withstand an earthquake of approximately magnitude 8.  The building contains an ample foyer and conference room area, numerous educational displays, a large, oval, freestanding aquarium,  and a touch tank so that students may handle intertidal organisms representing the major marine invertebrate phyla. The building also houses an extensive museum collection containing the most common species of crabs, shrimps, marine snails, bivalves, and a variety of fishes.

Table 1.  Allocation of space among tenants (net  square feet) in the Kodiak Fishery Research Center based on architectural design





Sq Ft





Alaska Department of Fish and Game 1,010 4.1 527 1,537.1 6.2
National Park Service 783 3.1 409 1,191.7 4.8
University of Alaska 1,518 6.1 792 2,310.3 9.3
National Marine Fisheries Service  13,065 52.4 6,819 19,883.9 79.8
Common use areas 8,547 34.3
Total 24,923 100.0 8,547 24,923 100.0

NMFS occupies the largest space in the building and accounts for 80% of building usage (Table 1 above). Within NMFS, the RACE Shellfish Assessment Program is the largest user (Table 2 below) and occupies 33 % of the buildings net area.

Table 2.  Allocation of space dedicated to the National Marine Fisheries within the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center.

National Marine Fisheries Group Net
Sq Ft
Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering 8,149 32.7
Resource Ecology and Fishery Management, Observer Program 1,248 5.0
Utilization Research Laboratory 2,269 9.1
National Marine Mammal Laboratory 1,279 5.1
Alaska Regional Office, Sustainable Fisheries 120 0.5
NMFS Totals 13,065 52.4

The Shellfish Assessment Program  conducts and reports results of surveys designed  to establish time series estimates of the distribution and abundance of king, snow, Tanner, and hair crabs in the eastern Bering Sea (EBS);  investigates biological processes and interactions with the environment to estimate growth, mortality, and recruitment of crabs to improve the precision and accuracy of forecasting stock dynamics; and identifies and tracks potential pathogens in the dominant shellfish stocks.   Results of surveys and special purpose research are documented and disseminated in status of stock reports, reports to industry, and formal scientific publications.  Data are managed and archived in a scientific database accessible by NMFS and NOAA scientists, other researchers, and the public. Program information is frequently used by the fishing industry to plan their operations.

The Shellfish Assessment Program has 19 offices (2,170 sq ft) that include 21 work stations and comprise 27% of the program’s area. Laboratory and field storage areas are 16 % of the program’s area,  followed by laboratories (12 %) and diving facilities (10%).    The diving area contains a filling station that includes a compressed air and cascade system as well as a  nitrox system, in addition to areas for the wash down and repair and storage of gear. The remainder of the Shellfish Program area is taken by the museum-collections room, general office support and computer support areas, and the W. F. Thompson Library.

Table 3.   Laboratories within the Kodiak Fishery Research Center.

Group Description

Net Sq Ft


ADF&G 1,010 11.6
Chemistry & Ageing Laboratory 690 7.9
Necropsy Laboratory 320 3.7
UAK 1,203 13.8
Instructional Laboratory 1,003 11.5
Electron Microscope 200 2.3
NMFS 3,058 35.1
Utilization Research 1,559 17.9
Shellfish Laboratory 675 7.7
Video Analysis Laboratory 310 3.6
NMML Necropsy Room 514 5.9
Common 3,440 39.5
General Seawater Laboratory 2,485 28.5
Cold rooms 450 5.2
Seawater control room 255 2.9
Food Preparation Laboratory 150 1.7
Water Quality Laboratory 100 1.1
Totals 8,711 100.0

Laboratories make up 33% of the net square footage in the facility’s main building (Table 3 above). Two well ventilated necropsy rooms are immediately adjacent to a loading dock for handling large animals and bulk samples of fish. Necropsy rooms are equipped with stainless steel tables and protected electrical outlets that allow for total wash down.  They are also located next to a large walk-in  freezer for specimen storage.  There is an electron microscope laboratory,  a large instructional laboratory, as well as general laboratory space for utilization research, water chemistry, shellfish research, and aging fish .  The shellfish laboratory  includes a small isolated area for microscopy.   A video analysis laboratory contains equipment for computer-mediated editing and quantification of images, an increasingly more important part of our underwater and at-sea data gathering efforts. Extensive use of video cameras are planned for monitoring experiments in the seawater laboratory as well.

The Seawater Laboratory Complex

The seawater laboratory complex is one of the most desirable features of the new Kodiak facility.  The complex consists of a seawater system,  large open laboratory, three cold rooms,  a water quality laboratory, and a food preparation laboratory.  The complex is immediately adjacent to the shellfish  laboratory and microscope room in order to facilitate examination of cultured or experimental animals.  The shellfish laboratory, the UAF instructional laboratory, and  the downstairs display area are fed from the complex’s seawater system as well.

The seawater system starts with intakes and pumps described below.  From the pump house, raw seawater is pumped to the top of an obelisk-like tower at the northeast end of the building.  This tower is the highest point in the building and gravity flow distributes seawater within the building as necessary.  Some of the water passes through sand filters and some is left unfiltered. Filtered seawater is frequently desirable for experimental purposes and in areas such as aquariums where control of species composition and avoidance of fouling organisms is essential. Unfiltered seawater is used where more natural systems are to be duplicated and where it is desired to maintain filter feeders such as clams or tunicates. All laboratories are supplied with one filtered and two unfiltered seawater lines. Each unfiltered line is used for 2 weeks and then allowed to become anoxic before being back-flushed with fresh water and reconditioned with saltwater. This  procedure is meant to control fouling on the inside of the lines.  Outflow is either through floor drains or piped through an ozone contact system for disinfection.  The ozone system is critical for research involving known, potentially epizootic pathogens that may be implicated in king, Tanner, and snow crab population dynamics. All portions of the seawater laboratory and the cold rooms are also served by freshwater for wash down and low pressure air for oxygenation.

The general seawater laboratory and the three associated cold rooms are designed to conduct experiments in a controlled environment that are easily cross-correlated or verified through observations and experiments conducted in adjacent bays or ocean areas.   The three cold rooms (each 150 sq ft) are intended to provide strict temperature control for at least three levels in experiments conducted in small to medium-sized containers.  They also offer obvious advantages relative tocontrolled photoperiod or other variables where strict isolation is desirable.   The general seawater laboratory is intended for much larger experiments where control is not as critical or where experiment-specific devices are constructed to provide environmental controls. The laboratory has an open design allowing for many tanks or experimental units to operate. The seawater laboratory opens to the gear loft and then to the exterior through large garage type doors and the entire area is fork lift compatible. This feature allows even large tanks to be manipulated and is especially intended to allow experimental animals to be transported from shipboard to the laboratory in large containers. The intent is to minimizes stress caused by handling of unanesthetized wild animals. Currently we are beginning experiments on the reproductive biology of Tanner crabs in the seawater laboratory. The experiments are designed to augment underwater observations that have been carried out by divers, using ROVs (remote operated vehicles), sled-mounted cameras, or submarines.

The Pump House

The pump house at the new Kodiak research facility is located on Trident Basin and is fed by two siphon intake lines that draw water from screened intakes located at 15-and 25-m depths on the bottom of Trident Basin. Four 40-hp pumps can provide a maximum flow of nearly 1,200 gallons per minute (gpm), but normal operations call for one or two pumps at 300 to 600 gpm with remaining pumps in reserve. Reserve pumps can also be used to reverse flow through an intake line in order to “chase the pig,” a process to clean the lines. (The pig is later retrieved by divers.) All of the water-contact pump parts are Teflon or Teflon-coated, and all water lines are PVC plastic. The pumps overcome a static head of about 180 ft to the top of a tower at one end of the main building. The tower contains sand filters and the major lines for the seawater distribution system. The seawater return line also passes through the pump house and carries water from two sources to a subtidal outfall. Most water will return from tanks and aquaria that contain relatively low densities of native animals from Kodiak and hence will not need treatment. Water from tanks containing diseased or exotic organisms will be passed through an ozone contact system before being returned to the sea. The latter procedure prevents introduction of organisms or pathogens to Trident Basin or  surrounding waters. The ozone generator is capable of decontaminating up to 500 gpm of contaminated effluent.
Visitor Housing

Housing for visiting scientists consists of a building along the entry driveway that contains two 2-bedroom and four single-bedroom apartments. Housing is operated by the University of Alaska but is available to those visiting and working with the NMFS on a space-available basis.

The KFRC consolidates NMFS research and management programs in Kodiak and makes them more accessible to the fishing industry and the public.  The KFRC was made possible through the community’s  long history of interest in fishery research.  Information dissemination and ready access to an adequate technical library are important educational assets.  The new building has alleviated long-standing deficiencies in previous facilities which  lacked a seawater system and adequate laboratory space, both essential for biological research.  Research is intended to improve knowledge of fishery resources leading to better forecasts of abundance, evaluation of environmental concerns, and the potential for resource development.  Improved knowledge of early life history is a particular focus of the seawater laboratory and will serve both to improve stock assessment and evaluate the potential for aquaculture or stock enhancement. The new Kodiak facility also meets needs for a base of operations for field research, expanding management and observer coordination in groundfish fisheries and timely cooperation with the ADF&G on shellfish surveys and fishery management decision-making.