PUBLISHED: 12:19 PM on Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Berg retires after 37 years of federal service

Less than a month ago, Ron Berg retired after 37 years of federal service, 30 of which were spent in Alaska working for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMS). Yet his departure from the job didn't dampen his interest in the field; in fact, he plans to spend even more time pursuing his interest in habitat conservation now that he doesn't have to report to an office everyday.

"I've always found fisheries to be so interesting; it's an intricate, detailed, controversial field, and it's worth a lot of money to a lot of people," explained the former deputy regional administrator. "Over the years, I've been fascinated by all of the educational aspects of it, and I'll certainly miss that part of the job."

"Though I have a lot of hobbies and am anticipating developing even more, I remain very interested in habitat conservation," added Berg, who plans to stay in Juneau with his wife, Barbara. "I'm seeking some sort of an association with a conservation entity so that I can further this goal in Alaska."

Originally from Montana, Berg received a master's degree in limnology, or the study of lakes, from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. After being drafted into the Army, Berg spent most of his service at Fort Richardson in Anchorage, working as an artillery officer. "I was lucky in that I was scheduled to replace an artillery officer in the field about the time Vietnam wore down," he said. "Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of use for an artillery officer once you are out of the military."

Berg landed a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which enabled him to stay in the 49th state. He later joined the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), working in the Habitat Conservation Division. "I really developed an appreciation of the complexity of the Southeast fisheries habitat during my early years on the job, when we developed the use of scuba equipment to review proposed log transfer sites," he explained. "Eventually I got to dive at sites in Adak, the Pribilof Islands, Kodiak and Prince William Sound, as well as making hundreds of dives throughout Southeast."

Berg also feels privileged in that he was able to play a part in the formation of the U.S. fishery in Alaska, having started his career when there were only foreign fisheries operating in its waters. "I was here when we moved from a 100 percent foreign fishery to a joint venture fishery, and finally to a 100 percent American fishery," he said. "I have tremendous respect for our fishing fleet and our processors-they took a lot of risks to develop markets and to learn how to catch industrial quantities of fish. Watching these entrepreneurs was just fascinating."

"I also have great respect for the environmental community, who made habitat performance their priority," he added. "Without a healthy habitat, you do not have a sustainable fishery." Berg says that he is especially proud of the fact that since U.S. quotas were put into place, groundfish stocks have never been overfished in Alaska as they have been in other NMS regions.

Though Berg says that he will certainly miss the complexities that define Alaska's fisheries, he will miss the people he worked with even more. "I especially enjoyed my association with the really professional, hard-working people in the NMS Alaska region," he said. "They work in a very challenging field, where often the reward for good work is more work. I was always extremely proud to be a part of such a dedicated organization that got such good results."

The people with whom Berg worked will miss his professionalism too. "Ron has been a strong stabilizing influence for this agency in Alaska," said NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator Dr. James Balsiger. "He has many year of knowledge and an Alaskan perspective with roots in conservation and habitat protection. We will miss his presence."

Looking back, Berg believes that had events not conspired to lead him into his fisheries career, he might have gone on to get a degree in zoology, and perhaps taught at a university while performing ecological research. "To tell the truth, it was the scuba diving that kept me in Alaska more than anything else," he said. "There was something about seeing fish live in their natural habitat instead of seeing them pickled in formaldehyde that fascinated me."