Marine Advisory agent teaches ROV skills

(VIDEO: Watch Gary Freitag give instruction on how to use a remotely operated vehicle)

There’s no typical day in the life of an Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory agent. Sometimes the work might involve disentangling a humpback whale caught in commercial fishing gear. Another day it could be performing a necropsy, rescuing a stranded baby walrus or helping someone figure out how to test the clams they recreationally harvested on the beach for paralytic shellfish poisoning.

Alaska Sea Grant’s 12 Marine Advisory agents have done all of these things and more over the past year or so. For agent Gary Freitag, who lives in Ketchikan, a recent day found him on a floatplane ride to Neets Bay where he helped a young scientist learn how to use an ROV—a remotely operated vehicle—to examine the ocean floor at a salmon hatchery.

“I can’t imagine doing it without Gary. He was an essential part of us not getting that thing lost,” said Whitney Crittenden, lead research technician with the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association.


Whitney Crittenden receives training from Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory agent Gary Freitag on how to use an ROV, a remotely operated vehicle, in Neets Bay, Alaska. May 2018.

Crittenden is studying for a professional science master’s degree in fisheries and wildlife administration through Oregon State University and Freitag is mentoring her for her capstone project.

As far as learning to operate an ROV, Crittenden said “there’s a definite art to it.”

“Gary had all sorts of helpful hints, like ‘You need to let out more tether.’ Or with identifying what we were looking at on the ocean floor. You can read the manual but there’s only so much you can get from that,” she said.

The ROV that Freitag taught her to operate will be used to track organisms that live on the bottom of the sea, called the benthic community, as required by the state’s clean water quality rules. As part of the permitting process, hatchery operators must sample freshwater and seawater and conduct surveys for the presence of bacterial mats, organic debris from fish culture and indicators of anoxic sediment, Crittenden said.

“Besides the operations training, I was helping interpret what she was seeing as well as identifying the animals and whether there were signs of anoxic conditions or currents. So we were looking for bubbles in the sediment, size of particles, movement in the sediments when engaging the thrusters, that sort of thing,” said Frietag.

Freitag has a master’s in oceanography and is a faculty member at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.