September 29, 2003
Dennis Kelso receives $150,000 fellowship to
help save wild salmon
By Susan Altman
Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation
Dennis T. Kelso, an assistant professor of environmental studies at
UC Santa Cruz, has received a $150,000 fellowship that will support
his efforts to save wild salmon. Kelso today (Monday, September 29)
was named a fellow of the Pew Marine Conservation Program, one of only
five international recipients recognized each year for their work advancing
solutions to the oceans most pressing problems.
|Dennis Kelso plans to use his
Pew Fellowship to develop policy alternatives. Photo:
r. r. jones
Kelso will be developing policies to protect the wild salmon of the
northwest United States from changes in the structure of the salmon
industry and proposed new technologies in salmon aquaculture.
He will use the funds to address the problems associated with the production
of farm-raised salmon and the use of genetically engineered fish in
commercial salmon aquaculture.
The Pew Marine Conservation Fellowships are the world's most prestigious
awards supporting applied ocean conservation science and outreach.
Each fellow receives $150,000 over three years to carry out innovative,
interdisciplinary projects addressing challenges facing marine environments
around the world.
Alaska is by far the largest producer of salmon in North America, but
the rapid and continuing expansion of salmon farming has glutted the
Prices have fallen so low that the futures of many small-scale fishers
and fishing-dependent communities are at risk. Major legislative and
regulatory changes under consideration could have unintended socioeconomic
and ecological effects, warns Kelso. Alaska has sustainably managed
salmon and their habitats for half a century, but as the tie between
human communities and salmon ecosystems is weakened by loss of economic
value, the incentives for protecting those ecosystems diminish,
We are at a crucial moment of change and risk for conservation
of salmon, their ecosystems, and the human communities that depend upon
them, said Kelso.
Battles for habitat protection, however skillfully waged, may
be quickly overtaken by developments that include unintended effects
from restructuring commercial salmon fisheries and from the proposed
introduction of genetically engineered fish into salmon farming.
Genetic manipulations are easier and often cheaper to achieve in fish
than in domestic livestock such as chickens, and the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration is weighing the idea of allowing the commercial aquaculture
industry to use Atlantic salmon that have been genetically engineered
for faster growth. Some genetically engineered fish have dramatically
faster growth rates and achieve market size in roughly half the usual
But scientists have identified a number of serious ecological and economic
risks and policy concerns associated with genetically engineered salmon
that may escape from aquaculture facilities into marine and other aquatic
environments, including changes in the ecological fitness of wild fish
because of competition and other interactions with escaped fish. Those
changes may include gene flow from genetically engineered fish to wild
populations. Economic risks include further impacts on the beleaguered
wild salmon industry and disruptions of the existing commercial salmon
aquaculture industrys structure.
Studies have shown that hundreds of thousands of conventionally bred
farmed salmon already have escaped from fish cages damaged by storms
or predators and because of other operating accidents. Escaped genetically
modified fish that breed with wild salmon would create an uncontrolled
experiment of nature with unknowable outcomes, warned Kelso.
With his Pew Fellowship, Kelso will develop policy alternatives that
focus on two neglected topics. First, despite the United States governments
current emphasis on the rights of states, most discussions about managing
ecological risks from the proposed use of genetically engineered fish
in salmon aquaculture still focus on federal regulation. In fact, the
U.S. government now emphasizes deregulation rather than regulatory control
of ecological risks. Kelso will look at whether well-constructed and
carefully managed state, provincial, and regional regulatory systems
can be successful, regardless of whether federal actions are taken.
Second, most proposals to restructure Alaskas salmon fisheries
are dominated by considerations of production costs and marketing factors;
Kelso will investigate socioeconomic and conservation issues.
A lawyer, social scientist, teacher, and public servant, Kelso brings
a broad range of experience to the subject. As Alaskas commissioner
of environmental conservation, Kelso directed the states response
when the Exxon Valdez went aground in 1989, spilling nearly 11 million
gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. He stood up against
the reluctant Exxon Corporation to ensure that the spill was cleaned
up and to enforce environmental laws. He also represented the state
before news media and numerous congressional committees.
As deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game from
1983 until 1986, Kelso worked to preserve salmon habitats, conserve
the caribou herd that calves on the coastal plain of the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge, and protect migratory waterfowl populations. He also
directed the Division of Subsistence from 1980 to 1983, supervising
field research on traditional uses of wild, renewable resources in Alaskas
After obtaining a law degree from Harvard University, Kelso worked
early in his career as an assistant public defender in Fairbanks, Alaska,
and the Iñupiat villages of Alaskas Arctic slope. Kelso
earned his Ph.D. in energy and resources from UC Berkeley.
At UCSC, Kelso pursues environmental issues related to genetically
engineered organisms, marine resource protection and use, coastal land
and water policies, and changes in natural resource industries. He is
coeditor of the new book, Engineering Trouble: Biotechnology and
Its Discontents, published by the University of California Press,
Berkeley (2003) and is working on a manuscript about salmon. Kelso is
also coholder of the Pepper-Giberson Chair in Environmental Studies
The four other 2003 Pew Marine Conservation Fellows are Rainer Froese
of Germany; Steven Gaines of the United States; Kristina Gjerde of Poland;
and Ana Parma of Argentina. More information about all the Pew Fellows
is available on the web.
The Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation seeks to foster greater
public understanding of the relationship between life in the sea and
life on land. Nominations are made through an international network
of environmental experts. Review and selection is conducted by a 12-member
international advisory committee based on the applied conservation merit
of the proposal, the individual's professional achievement, and the
potential impact of the project.
The program is an initiative of the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable
Trusts, among the largest philanthropies in the United States, supporting
nonprofit activities in the environment, culture, education, health
and human services, public policy, and religion.
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