Q&A: Jason Moeller, Researcher of walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska

Onsite coordinator of education for the Knoxville Zoo, Jason Moeller recently spent 18 days assisting in a scientific survey of walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska, as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Teacher at Sea program.

Is your educational background in zoology?

I'm actually a history major. That being said, I had worked at a zoo for several years when I was a college student, and I'm also a licensed teacher in the state of Tennessee, so for me the program was a good fit.

What was the most exciting part of the adventure?

For me, it was when we actually had one day off and we all decided to go sport fishing—with lines, not nets. I caught a 25-pound halibut that was almost as long as I was.

So you do fish?

Yes, I like to fish for fun, but I hadn't done it in a while.

Do you like to eat pollock?

I do, but some other fish we ate, like salmon and halibut, were a lot better.

You're probably tired of pollock after catching how many?

Well over 1,000. We attempted to get a sample size of 300 every time we went fishing, and usually could catch 100-150. We fished once a day, if not more, every single day out at sea, which was about 18.

Was it weird to be working with an animal you eat when you're used to working at the zoo?

I didn't think of it as weird. I guess the weird part is that to get the data on the pollock you have to cut them open. One of the things we teach at the zoo is conservation and not killing animals, like asking the little kid not to step on a bug on the path just because they think it's icky.

How cold was it in Alaska?

It was usually in the upper 30s to the low 50s, so not that cold.

Did you get a lot of extra daylight hours?

The sun went down at 11:30 at night and it rose around 7 a.m., so that was unusual. But I worked the night shift, 4 p.m. to 4 a.m., so I did get to see some nighttime hours and fish in the dark. I wanted to see the aurora, but we were too far south for that.

What will you do with what you learned?

First, this will better allow me to teach the oceanography portion of my homeschool class that comes to the zoo every Tuesday. In addition, one of the most common badges that is taught to Boy Scout groups that come in is the fish and wildlife merit badge—now I have the knowledge to write and teach a fisheries portion for that badge. And a major focus for all scouts is the concept of Leave No Trace, where scouts are supposed to leave an area the way they found it. The fisheries research being done aboard the Dyson is focused toward that same goal in the ocean, where we are attempting to keep the pollock population as we found it, creating a sustainable fishery.

Jason Moeller's NOAA blog is at jasonatsea.wordpress.com.