Fellow spotlight: Drew Porter

Drew Porter is an Alaska Sea Grant State Fellow working in collaboration with the Recruitment Energetics and Coastal Assessment (RECA) Program at NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Porter started the fellowship in 2022 and is continuing for a second year.

man wearing hat and glasses standing next to stream and trees smiling
Alaska Sea Grant State Fellow, Drew Porter. Photo courtesy of Drew Porter.

Porter’s primary research is investigating thiaminase activity in Alaska’s fishes. Thiaminase is an enzyme found in prey fish that degrades the essential vitamin thiamine (vitamin B1) when consumed by predators, leaving them thiamine deficient. Thiamine deficiency may contribute to the recent notable decline of various Pacific salmon species, including Yukon River Chinook salmon, which have significant cultural, ecological and economic value. During his fellowship, Porter presented his thiaminase research at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium and participated in a NOAA survey in the Western Gulf of Alaska. Through these ongoing NOAA surveys, researchers investigate juvenile walleye pollock, other forage fishes, and zooplankton to better understand how commercially important fish species are responding to changing ocean conditions.

“I am thrilled to be working with the RECA Program,” Porter said. “This group has expertise in studying Alaska’s fishes and the environmental and anthropogenic factors that are affecting them. With my laboratory research background, I knew I could be a valuable asset to the group. Moreover, I see this fellowship as an incredible opportunity to gain valuable experience and insights from experts in Alaska fisheries research.”

Porter is conducting his research with Dr. Cody Pinger at Auke Bay Laboratories in Juneau, Alaska. Beyond thiaminase studies, Porter is working to validate a method for rapidly determining total lipid content in fish. Lipid content is a crucial indicator of fish condition, useful in assessing survival potential, prey quality, and ecosystem status. Validating this method will result in less processing time, increased throughput, and a decrease in hazardous solvent waste.

A North Texas native, Porter moved to Alaska in 2020 to pursue his master’s degree in marine biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Porter’s master’s research and graduate student stipend were funded by Alaska Sea Grant and focused on the toxic effects of copper to juvenile sockeye, chinook, and coho salmon. After his fellowship, Porter hopes to continue researching pressing issues affecting Alaska fisheries.

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