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Four Qs for a Conservancy Scientist

Reflections on Summers of Salmon

As a fisheries ecologist for the Alaska Field Office of The Nature Conservancy, Christine Woll is a key member of a team committed to a science-based approach to protecting Alaska's wild salmon traditions.
No matter what you do for a living in Bristol Bay – your life still revolves around the cycle of the fish – and that lifestyle is both incredibly unique and irreplaceable, in my opinion.
Christine Woll
Fisheries Ecologist

nature.org:

How do you describe Bristol Bay to those who've never been there?

Christine Woll:

There’s water everywhere, which is what makes it so valuable for salmon. What I also tell people is how salmon makes Bristol Bay so valuable to the people who live there. No matter what you do for a living in Bristol Bay – your life still revolves around the cycle of the fish – and that lifestyle is both incredibly unique and irreplaceable, in my opinion.

nature.org:

You've spent several field seasons researching salmon in Bristol Bay. What's your most memorable experience from the field?

Christine Woll:

Seeing all of the life that supports itself from these five species of fish is always incredible. Whether it’s the commercial fishing boats setting their nets in the bay, the belugas swimming up the rivers, or the bears and eagles pouncing on their prey, there’s always something to see.

nature.org:

You have the powerful tools of the 21st century ecologist at your fingertips. What do these tools allow you to do that couldn't be done, say, a generation ago?

Christine Woll:

In the past, research on salmon in remote places like Bristol Bay was forced to focus on the bare minimum – the number of fish being caught and the number of fish being left to spawn. However, technological advances in genetics, telemetry, and remote sensing allow us to understand the spatial patterns of salmon distribution and what type of habitats they are using in both freshwater and in the marine environment.

nature.org:

Why is this important?

Christine Woll:

We’re making remarkable advances in our understanding of which habitats are most important to each stage of the salmon life cycle and where these habitats are. This is critical to making important land-use decisions. To understand how nature works in Bristol Bay, you really need to think like a fish.


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