Salmon Research in Alaska: My Mentor Sparked My Career
Kenneth L. Beal
Field research in fisheries is challenging and rewarding, often demanding innovation in dealing with problems. Summer field work during college is a great place for mentoring and learning professional ethics. Mentors can shape the character of young professionals by their example, and mentees can use this experience to launch their careers. The following experiences are taken from my first professional fisheries job, illustrating the importance of being prepared and innovative. My mentor laid the groundwork for not only that summer’s field work, but for my career as well.
In 1962, after finishing my sophomore year in wildlife management at the University of Maine, I headed north to Alaska for a temporary summer job as a fishery aide with the U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF), the predecessor to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The supervisor of field research, Dale Evans, took considerable time to describe the office’s ongoing research, and he explained how the work I would be doing with my two partners (Jack and Dick) fit into the big picture. He said we would be collecting 50 adult Sockeye Salmon Oncorhynchus nerka from each of the major tributaries of the Copper River, recording a broad array of meristic counts (such as the number of rays in each fin or scales on the lateral line) and morphometric measurements (such as length and weight). Scales would be collected, and we would take blood samples, which would be packed in ice and sent by air to the BCF laboratory in Seattle, Washington for electrophoretic analyses. The data would be used to test the hypothesis that each tributary in the river held its own race of Sockeye Salmon and that there should be some way to differentiate among them. This was a real-life problem, and I was delighted to be involved. Dale gave me a field logbook and encouraged me to record observations, especially anything unusual.