New NOAA program gives vet foothold in fisheries

Barney Boyer’s first few months as a NOAA Fisheries intern have been busy. He has assisted with tracking the return of salmon and forage fish to the Elwha River estuary, surveyed Puget Sound ocean conditions and begun studying the invasion of non-native fish in the Snohomish River.

Boyer is the first military veteran to take an internship with NOAA Fisheries through a new partnership between Washington’s Department of Veterans Affairs and Veterans Conservation Corps, NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region, the NOAA Restoration Center and the Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC). Boyer is based at the NWFSC’s Mukilteo Research Station, near Everett, where he is assisting with several research projects, including one that may include him as co-author of a peer-reviewed paper.

vet corps members on boat in shallow water

A survey crew pauses during work at the Elwha River Estuary. From left, Justin Stapleton, Kinsey Frick, Anna Kagley, Barney Boyer (in green shirt) and Heather Jackson.

“It’s really turned out to be an amazing experience so far,” Boyer said. “Every day here is an interesting experience, and I’m learning all the time.”

Casey Rice, director of the Mukilteo Research Station until his unexpected passing earlier this year, was a key advocate of hosting veterans at Mukilteo.

“Casey wanted this to happen and his colleagues have assumed the task of moving it forward,” said John Floberg of the NOAA Restoration Center, who helped coordinate the program. “It’s Casey’s legacy that veterans are now contributing to research at Mukilteo.”

The joint program for veterans in Washington expands on other programs across NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region to recruit and train veterans in fisheries science, and help build their resumes for a career in the field. This Veteran’s Day marks the fourth since NOAA launched its first training opportunities for veterans, said Bob Pagliuco of the NOAA Restoration Center, who helped develop the agency’s first program for veterans in Northern California.

“We now have veterans in key research and conservation roles from Southern California all the way north to Washington,” Pagliuco said.

Boyer, 35, grew up in Illinois, fishing for salmon introduced to the Great Lakes. He served as an Air Force equipment operator during Operation Iraqi Freedom, repairing runways for flight operations. Later he worked as a chef for major hotel chains and restaurants, and then became fascinated by West Coast salmon while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in environmental science at the University of Illinois.

He began looking for career opportunities involving fisheries on the West Coast and heard of the NOAA Fisheries internship through officials with Washington’s Veterans Conservation Corps. The internship has provided practical experience that gives him a solid foothold in the field, Boyer said.

“Every day helps build my resume, and the support I’ve received has been incredible,” he said.

vet corps members transporting equipment to boat

Justin Stapleton, Barney Boyer and Kinsey Frick use a beach seine to sample fish in the Elwha River Estuary.

One of Boyer’s projects has been assisting NWFSC Fishery Biologist Anna Kagley with research on how salmon and forage fish are recolonizing the Elwha River estuary following removal of dams that had blocked the river.

“He’s coming with a great basic understanding of science and enthusiasm, and he readily applies his knowledge in a way that really supports our research,” Kagley said. Boyer is “one of the best interns I’ve had in 25 years and we’re lucky to have him.”

Boyer hopes to attend graduate school, and through his work at NOAA Fisheries has developed a key connection at the University of Washington.

“This has really opened a lot of important doors for me,” Boyer said. “I hope that many more veterans can benefit from this program in the future.”

For more information:

Veterans Corps: From protecting our country to protecting our habitat

Video: Military veterans help rebuild fisheries

NOAA/Washington VCC Fisheries Veterans Internship