Centennial Story 53: Bill Karp (MS, 1975; PhD, 1982)

I grew up in England and was fortunate enough to be awarded a six-month internship at the Fisheries Laboratory in Lowestoft while an undergraduate. This was in 1971 when David Cushing was still the Director, and many famous fisheries scientists walked the halls, including Roy Harden Jones and John Pope.  I participated in a juvenile fish survey aboard a small research vessel, which involved sampling along the south coast of England. We tied up in a different port each night and went ashore to sample the local beer. I liked the idea of doing this kind of work for a living!

I arrived in Seattle in December 1972 and began my graduate studies at the College of Fisheries in January 1973. I remember being warmly welcomed by Doug Chapman, who was then Dean, and by Alan DeLacy who was my interim advisor. During my first year, I began work on my MS.  This involved evaluating the effects of water-level fluctuations on the limnology of Banks Lake, which is an electricity storage reservoir close to Grand Coulee Dam. Jerry Stober was my supervisor, and my committee also included Bob Wissmar, Eugene Welch (Civil Engineering), and Ernie Salo. I received my MS degree in 1975, began working with Bruce Miller and Si Simenstad on a study of ichthyoplankton and juvenile fish ecology in northern Puget Sound, and went on to conduct PhD research under Bruce’s supervision, studying the biology and management of Pacific cod in Port Townsend. My PhD committee included Don Gunderson, Steve Mathews, Mark Pederson (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife), and Tom English. I worked closely with the small fleet that harvested Pacific cod in the study area. I made lifelong friends among these fishermen and learned the essential importance of collaboration with industry that greatly influenced my career.

With Egil Ona, Neil Williamson and Jim Traynor during a acousttics workshop in Japan (1989)
With Egil Ona, Neil Williamson and Jim Traynor during a acousttics workshop in Japan (1989)

By the time I received my PhD in 1982, I was married to Susan Guralnick and the father of our first son, Joshua. My second son, Gabriel, was born in 1986. I consider myself very fortunate to have such a close and loving family who supported me throughout my career, even when I was away from home for extended periods of time.

I started work before completing my PhD dissertation (not a recommended approach): first with Tetra Tech, Inc., a large engineering firm engaged in environmental impact studies and then with BioSonics, Inc., a start-up company that was developing state-of-the-art acoustic instruments for estimating fish abundance and tracking individuals and schools. The company was founded by three UW scientists: Tom Carlson (MS, 1974; PhD, 1979), Bill Acker, and Al Wirtz (Electrical Engineering). I slowly learned fisheries acoustics and carried out studies on the Columbia and Mississippi Rivers and in other marine and freshwater systems throughout the US. This field became increasingly important in the 1980s, largely because of groundbreaking work carried out at UW (Fisheries, Electrical Engineering, Advanced Physics Laboratory), in the private sector through BioSonics, and by the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Northwest and Alaska Fisheries Center (NWAFC, later AFSC, Alaska Fisheries Science Center) under the leadership of Jim Traynor (MS, 1973; PhD, 1984) and Marty Nelson (MS, 1966). I was asked to join the NMFS team in 1986, thus beginning my 30-year career with NOAA.

With NEFSC leadership team shortly before my retirement in 2016 (Woods Hole)
With NEFSC leadership team shortly before my retirement in 2016 (Woods Hole)

Marty, and later Jim, led the Midwater Assessment Program at AFSC. This was (and still is) a cutting-edge program involved in design and application of advanced hydroacoustic technology to assess pelagic and semi-pelagic fish such as walleye pollock and Pacific hake. During the 1980s and 1990s, the technology advanced rapidly due to developments in acoustic target strength measurement, echo integration, and digital instrumentation. UW was at the forefront of these developments through collaborations with BioSonics, our team at AFSC, and international partners, especially in Norway. We conducted assessment surveys in Alaska and off the West Coast, and worked closely with colleagues worldwide through the Fisheries Acoustics Science and Technology Working Group (WGFAST) of ICES (the International Council for Exploration of the Sea). In 1987, I chaired an ICES International Symposium on Fisheries Acoustics, which was held in Seattle, and I began to attend and present papers at WGFAST meetings and other national and international fora. In August 1991, I began a one-year assignment working at the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen, Norway as part of an international collaboration involving development of digital hydroacoustic systems, and I went on to lead the acoustic assessment program at AFSC following Jim Traynor’s untimely death in 1999.

My career has taken many twists and turns since those early days with AFSC. I led the AFSC’s Observer Program for several years, following in the footsteps of fellow SAFS alumnus Russ Nelson (MS, 1977), and went on to become Deputy Director at AFSC. And for the last five years of my career with NMFS, I served as Science and Research Director at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. Based in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, we conducted science in support of fisheries management from Cape Hatteras to the Canadian Border, and I had the opportunity to work closely with scientists, industry members, managers, and policymakers regionally and nationally. My early engagement with ICES continued, and I have served as one of the two US Delegates for several years.

Back in Seattle after retiring from NMFS, my career has turned full circle. As a member of the SAFS affiliate faculty, I have a small office on campus, working with faculty and students on a couple of projects and guest lecturing from time to time. And I am enjoying working with André Punt and a distinguished group of colleagues planning the SAFS Centennial celebration.

With fellow members of the ICES Bureau in 2018 (Copenhagen)
With fellow members of the ICES Bureau in 2018 (Copenhagen)

My career has been rich, diverse, and rewarding. My time at SAFS and the support and encouragement I received during my time as a graduate student prepared me well. But equally important has been the mentoring, friendship, and guidance I have received during the last 40 years. Much of this has come from fellow SAFS graduates such as Gary Stauffer (MS, 1969; PhD, 1973), Don Gunderson (PhD, 1976), Jim Balsiger (PhD, 1974), Jim Traynor, Russ Nelson, Wally Pereyra (MS, 1961; PhD, 1967), Richard Merrick (PhD, 1995), and Bill Fox (PhD, 1972) (to name a few).

The SAFS legacy is rich, and it is exciting to look ahead, to think about challenges facing our community and world, and to be certain that the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences will enjoy a challenging, productive, and influential future.

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