UAF highlights profitability of Sikuliaq research vessel

Sikuliaq floats in the Menominee River just after launch. (Photo by Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks)

The University of Alaska Fairbanks operated research vessel Sikuliaq is proving to be a good investment. That was a key message from UAF college of fisheries and ocean sciences dean Bradly Moran during a Sikuliaq update for UA regents last week.

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“The state of Alaska provide a half-million dollars a year as an investment that turns back roughly $12 million in revenue,” Moran said.

UAF operates the Sikuliaq for the National Science Foundation, which funds research projects, and Moran says much of the NSF-funded work is conducted by UA researchers.

“And in FY18, believe it or not, 74 percent of the time at sea doing science, it was someone from the university on that vessel,” Moran said. “That’s an amazing statistic. We were shooting for 20 percent in our strategic plan.”

Moran says that will help the university when it has to compete to retain the NSF operation contract in 2023. Moran also highlighted the recent purchase of a large trawl net that will enable the Sikuliaq to conduct fisheries research.

“It’s a very large contraption, takes a lot of people to use,” Moran said. So we’ll see how this goes, but I do believe that this investment of $250,000 will open up some new finding opportunities that we don’t actually have on the ship right now.”

Moran says the trawl which has under ice fishing capability was purchased with funds left over from the sale of the NSF previous research vessel, the Alpha Helix. Moran says the university is also investing in up to 5 new faculty, who will work aboard the Sikuliaq.

”This is important because we want to ensure faculty at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and across the state use this vessel,” Moran said.

Noting challenges facing the Sikuliaq program, Moran listed the need for a new 10 to 12 million dollar pier facility at Seward, but said he does not believe that re-securing the NSF operating contract in 2023 is contingent on building a new pier.