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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Feb. 22, 2022

NOAA Knauss Sea Grant fellows make an impact in coastal restoration, combatting climate change, and illegal fishing

By Janki Patel, MyCG Writer

This year’s Johns Knauss Sea Grant fellows found ways to combat climate change, protect fisheries, contribute to the restoration of ecosystems, and prototype marine policy, without leaving their home office.  

As Sarah Zaunbrecher and James Price conclude their fellowships with their Coast Guard hosts, they join a select group of alumni in the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) John Knauss Sea Grant Marine Policy Fellowship program, who spend a one-year intensive program that places early career professionals in federal agencies throughout Washington, D.C. 

Zaunbrecher and Price are among almost 1,500 students who have participated in the program since 1979. The Knauss Fellowship has connected Zaunbrecher and Price with unique opportunities in the development of environmental policy. Zaunbrecher joined the Office of Maritime Law Enforcement, Fisheries Division. Price joined the Office of Incident Management and Preparedness, helping to represent the Coast Guard on the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (RESTORE).  

The 2021 Sea Grant Fellows talked about their experiences with MyCG as they wrap up in February 2022.  

What do you view as your greatest professional accomplishments during your time with the Coast Guard? 

Price: Throughout the past year we worked to share our ideas more broadly, leading to the development of several exciting partnerships with other organizations and agencies. One project that was particularly interesting was exploring the applicability of community vulnerability or resilience metrics in the context of response planning. This effort required comparisons of several oil spill trajectory models and tools for socioeconomic and environmental impact assessments. Further, I participated in the Gulf Science Coordination Forum and the Gulf Science Impact Metrics Working Group, two opportunities where I was able to interact with practitioners and researchers in the field of coastal resource restoration. Finally, I used my time in this position to become more familiar with reporting and financial requirements associated with managing the $1.9 million multi-year interagency agreement. Overall, these opportunities and partnerships have spurred on some work that will support the longevity of ongoing environmental restoration, while helping to limit vulnerabilities of coastal communities around the Gulf. 

Zaunbrecher: Right when I arrived, I jumped into my office’s efforts to develop “the Coast Guard Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Strategic Outlook Implementation Plan,” which outlines the Coast Guard’s role and strategy for combatting IUU fishing. It was a large effort by offices throughout the Coast Guard and it served as a good introduction to how federal agencies develop and implement policies. I am proud to have been a part of that effort and know that the work that I have done will help inform the Coast Guard’s counter-IUU strategy in the upcoming years. 

What do you think is the greatest impediment to progress for the issue(s) you were working on?  

Price: It took a bit of time to adjust to working in the federal government and to understand the role of the Coast Guard. A substantial portion of our work with the Gulf Ecosystem Restoration Council is to develop ideas that support protection and resilience of marine and coastal resources in the Gulf of Mexico. Pursuing these ideas while communicating across regions and agencies often led to duplicated efforts or conflicting priorities. Fortunately, these difficulties did not impede progress on broader coastal restoration efforts, but with so many programs across states and agencies working around the Gulf of Mexico, it was difficult at times to find a new idea to push forward. 

Zaunbrecher: I think that one of the greatest challenges with countering illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is the sheer amount of coordination needed. The Coast Guard has been doing fisheries enforcement for a while, but there are many other agencies and organizations out there who are doing a lot of good work in the field as well. In order for all of our efforts to be effective, cooperation and communication is key. 

Was climate change a factor in the issues you were working on, and in the Coast Guard’s approach to those issues? 

Price: Climate change is a major consideration in our work. The Coast Guard and the Gulf Ecosystem Restoration Council are both developing programs that are at the forefront of coastal issues associated with a changing climate. Given the influx of restoration and science efforts in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it serves as an ideal opportunity to also prepare for encroaching issues like sea-level rise and flooding, among others.  

Zaunbrecher: As increasing temperatures warm waters and melt ice, we are starting to see fish move to new habitats to adapt to their changing climates. As changes in fish stocks will affect where people fish, the Coast Guard is taking this into consideration for future fisheries enforcement efforts. 

What are your plans after you complete the Fellowship?  

Price: Whether I am able to continue on in the federal government or not when the fellowship ends, I plan to pursue a career that supports marine science and coastal resilience. I enjoy the atmosphere of getting things done within the Coast Guard and it is an attitude I plan to take forward. 

Zaunbrecher: This year has been highly formative to my career trajectory. One of the best parts of the Knauss Fellowship program is that it allows fellows the opportunity to explore future career options in a way most jobs do not. Through this program, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues across the federal government, be a part of international dialogues about fisheries policy, and be in the room for conversations and decisions about interesting and important issues in marine policy. I’ve met people who are in careers that I am interested in and I was able to learn more about what future opportunities are available to me. Through these new experiences, I have learned that I really enjoy working on fisheries and marine policy issues at a federal and even international level, and I plan to continue supporting these efforts in my career. 

Finally, do you have any advice for current or future fellows? 

Price: My advice for future and prospective fellows would be to open yourself up to positions that do not fit your exact experience. All of the positions available to Knauss Fellows offer exciting opportunities, and this could put you in a role that gives you a new perspective and network toward potential career paths.  

Zaunbrecher: Take advantage of the many opportunities and chances to try something new. Be sure to network. There is no shortage of interesting people in D.C. doing impactful work and who would love to talk to you about it. And of course, I highly recommend a placement at the Coast Guard! 

Interested in becoming a Sea Grant Knauss Fellow? Check out the NOAA’s Sea Grant website is a great resource for future related announcements. Learn about future eligibility, submission information, a list of elements for application, deadlines, and timeline. 

Please contact your state Sea Grant program or the National Sea Grant Office for further details.