Story last updated at 9/15/2010 - 1:20 pm
A Juneau fisheries biologist has been recognized by the American Fisheries Society (AFS) for his early work in "bridging oceanography and marine science with riverine fisheries management."
The AFS, in the "President's Hook" column in its June 2010 issue of "Fisheries Magazine," recognized 25 "limnologists, ecologists, oceanographers, fisheries scientists, agriculturalists, sociologists, economists, artists, poets, writers, engineers and lawyers" who began to interact professionally beginning in the 1970s to improve the field of fisheries management.
Bob Piorkowski, now a fisheries biologist working for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Sports Fish Division, was one of those recognized for his work. The article's comment about Piorkowski said:
"And then there was Bob Piorkowski, a quiet and thoughtful Alaskan marten trapper who in his 30s decided to come out of the woods, go to college and become a fisheries scientist. In his doctoral dissertation he found that escapement goals for Pacific salmon needed to consider rotting carcasses as well as egg deposition because the carcasses provided streams with essential nutrients and foraging materials for invertebrates and early life history stages of salmon. This was published by others, but it was Bob who had the idea and did the early science to show the energetic connection between the ocean and rivers: with adult salmon serving simultaneously as the "allochthonous material" and its transport mechanism...bridging oceanography and marine science with riverine fisheries management."
Piorkowski, 59, left what he called the "industrial wasteland" of New Britain, Connecticut, at the age of 17, shortly after graduating high school and enrolled at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks in its wildlife program. Three years later, despite being able to participate in research programs on dall sheep in the Alaska Range and wolves in Mt. McKinley Park which were featured in national TV programs, he decided that he wasn't learning enough in school, so he dropped out of school and spent the winter in the Park's Wonder Lake area studying the McKinley caribou herd.
In 1972 Piorkowski became a seasonal ranger in McKinley Park, but was fired several months later for having long hair (although it did not touch his ears or collar). Representing himself, he filed a lawsuit against the Park Service in federal court for sex discrimination, going into the labyrinth of federal bureaucracy. Five years later, the suit was settled in Bob's favor, resulting in five years of back pay and his job back.
Piorkowski had met his future wife at a friend's wedding in Anchorage and they claimed some land in an area west of the Park, where they built a cabin "for about forty dollars worth of materials, some plastic for a roof a chain saw and ten gallons of gas." They lived a subsistence lifestyle, with their closest neighbors about 20 miles away, and they saw about 15 people in one year. Bob became a big game guide and ran a trap line for marten, wolves, lynx, wolverines and beaver. He also spent time as a commercial fisherman, owner of a lodge and an alternative fuel dealer.
In 1985, Piorkowski decided to go back to school at UAF, receiving a BS degree in fisheries science two years later and was names the outstanding graduate in the program. His work was deemed of such high caliber that he was allowed to bypass the masters degree program and he began working on a doctorate, which he received in 1995.
While working on his doctorate, Piorkowski taught biology classes at the university and worked as a heavy equipment operator during the summers. After receiving his doctorate, Bob did post-doctoral work on reclaiming placer mine creeks and rivers, and did some gold mining near McKinley Park.
In 1996, Piorkowski moved to Juneau as head of the state's mariculture program, representing the state's Fisheries Information Network involving the North Pacific Fisheries Management Board, the Pacific States Fisheries Commission, the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Piorkowski's interest in invasive species led him to initiate and develop the state's invasive nuisance program. One of the chief authors of the state's invasive species program, Bob was able to obtain several million dollars in grants for studies of invasive species. He was instrumental in founding the Alaska Invasive Species Work Group, comprised of 35 state, federal and private groups in a concerted effort to combat invasive species in the state.
Currently, Piorkowski runs the state's freshwater fisheries research permitting program which conducts oversight of all non-departmental fisheries-related projects in Alaska, authorizing research for projects such as the Pebble and Donlyn mines and the various gas pipelines being considered.