Based at Oregon State University since 1971, Oregon Sea Grant is one of 33 Sea Grant programs around the U.S. under the umbrella of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Oregon Sea Grant, which is funded by NOAA, OSU and grants, serves the state through research, outreach and education that helps people understand, rationally use, and conserve marine and coastal resources.
Led by the visionary Bill Wick until 1991, Oregon Sea Grant got its start working with commercial fishermen. “Bill recognized the potential of establishing some kind of marine program where we would work not only with the oyster people, as he did, but with those people up and down the coast who made their living from the sea,” Bob Jacobson, a retired Oregon Sea Grant Extension specialist who was hired by Wick in 1967, recalled in a 2008 interview.
“What they told me when they hired me was, ‘You’re going to be an agricultural agent – in hip boots,’” Jacobson said, and added, “It was a struggle trying to convince industry that I was there to help.”
But Jacobson eventually won the trust of fishermen, and over time, he and his colleagues helped introduce the fleet to new gear that poses less risk of bycatch; to a technique called flash freezing for storing the catch at its peak of perfection; and to safety trainings and equipment, such as waterproof survival suits, aimed at bringing fishermen home alive.
Since its start, Oregon Sea Grant has been involved in many of the big issues facing the coast: limits on fishing harvests; efforts to create new seafood products; the creation of protected marine reserves; and the impact of climate change on coastal communities. Sometimes, when controversial issues have been involved, such as how offshore wave energy infrastructure might affect fishermen, Oregon Sea Grant has served the role of neutral convener, bringing conflicting parties together to help them understand issues and find common ground. Jacobson, for example, early in his career brought fishermen and reluctant regulators together by organizing town hall meetings along the coast. “Those meetings were probably the forerunner of the good communications we have between industry and agencies today,” he said.
Through its scholarships and educational activities, Oregon Sea Grant also shapes the next generation of natural resource managers, scientists and environmental stewards. Every summer, Oregon Sea Grant places about 10 current or recent undergraduates in hands-on internships with state and federal agencies. Every year, about 150,000 people pass through the doors of the Oregon Sea Grant-operated Visitor Center at HMSC where they touch the sticky tentacles of sea anemones, crash simulated tsunami waves against Lego structures, and marvel over model-sized fishing boats. And in nearby classrooms, Oregon Sea Grant’s educators teach students how to dissect sharks, identify fish by their DNA and recognize marine mammals by their underwater sounds.