Gary Freitag, Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Program agent in Ketchikan, will retire this month after 13 years of providing educational and technical assistance and marine-related outreach for Southeast Alaska communities. His expertise, coupled with his passion for teaching and skill at making complex information understandable and interesting, has made him a valuable and respected resource for the region.
“Gary’s enthusiasm and passion will be missed,” said Alaska Sea Grant’s Director Ginny Eckert.
Freitag’s career in Alaska has spanned four decades. Prior to joining Alaska Sea Grant, he conducted research, evaluation and management of salmon aquaculture programs, first with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, then as Research Director at the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (SSRAA). He also taught oceanography at the University of Alaska Southeast, and has served on the Pacific Salmon Commission Chinook Technical Committee since 1984 as a liaison between fisheries management and the fishermen and communities who depend on salmon.
Freitag has contributed his knowledge and expertise to marine mammal necropsy and disentanglement, invasive species and baseline marine monitoring, salmon fishery forecasting, and remote underwater vehicle operation. He has given numerous public presentations on a wide range of topics from seaweed mariculture to marine mammals.
One of the accomplishments he is most proud of is getting students excited about marine science. “I’ve had them come up to me after they’ve continued their studies and gotten jobs doing ocean science, and they tell me they wouldn’t be doing this work if it weren’t for me,” Freitag said.
Working with people and sharing his passion for marine science is one of Freitag’s strengths. “His work has always been relevant and useful, informed by the needs of the people and communities where he works. Plus his enthusiasm is just really infectious” said Sunny Rice, Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Program agent in Petersburg.
One example of an innovative project Freitag initiated was a collaboration with Allen Marine Tours to sample nearshore waters for invasive European green crab. Freitag worked with the small cruise company to train staff to conduct sampling in a remote bay. Observing the research was interesting for the tourists and produced valuable data for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Freitag is still involved in a similar collaboration with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Institute, training volunteer members of the community to monitor for invasive marine species.
Freitag developed an interest in the ocean as a child visiting the Jersey shore with his family. After completing degrees in chemistry and oceanography, he worked for NASA on an offshore remote sensing project in Norfolk, Virginia, where he honed his skills in marine geology, chemistry and archeology. After giving a presentation about that work, he was offered a job in Alaska collecting and analyzing sediment samples in Prince William Sound and Glacier Bay. When Freitag made a trip to Ketchikan to conduct seagrass surveys, he decided to stay.
About working at Alaska Sea Grant, Freitag said, “This has been the best job by far of any job I’ve had.” Because Freitag’s work reflects his personal interests and passions, he plans to keep doing a lot of the same stuff in retirement.
“I’m going to try to relax a little more, but I’m still planning on interfacing with students and schools, and I may teach a little too,” he said. With characteristic light-hearted humor, Freitag added, “The Pacific Salmon Commission told me I’m not permitted to go anywhere.”
Freitag conducted his Marine Advisory Program work in Ketchikan with a passion for discovery, teaching, and sharing. His Alaska Sea Grant colleagues plan to continue to draw on his expertise. “We might call him up now and then just to hear one of his wonderful stories, too,” said Sunny Rice.