COMES Newsletter - Fall 2020

A Note from Christina:

Even in the middle of a global pandemic, our Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station (COMES) faculty and staff have been plenty busy supporting industry partners, mentoring new and continuing students, and contributing to critical research in a variety of areas. In Newport, four labs moved to the new Gladys Valley Marine Studies Building (pictured above), faculty welcomed summer NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) students remotely and one Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholar in person, and summer field work season has been busy (making full use of all COVID safety protocols at all times). COMES-Astoria welcomed new Faculty Research Assistant Emilee Slaght, planned and executed a virtual Environmental Regulatory Updates Webinar for our industry and agency partners, and has been conducting ongoing sensory testing and shelf-life projects on a variety of seafood products in collaboration with industry stakeholders. Although we're all sometimes challenged by these very strange times, I am continually impressed by the level of resilience exhibited by everyone in COMES as they continue to focus on executing our mission, remaining flexible, and working closely with collaborators to serve our coastal communities in Oregon, the nation, and the world.


Christina A. Mireles DeWitt
Interim Director, Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station

Dr. Susanne Brander Joins COMES
In July we welcomed Dr. Susanne Brander and her Ecotoxicology and Environmental Stress Lab into the COMES family.  Dr. Brander’s research utilizes the fields of toxicology, endocrinology, and ecology to study environmental stressors on fish and other aquatic organisms, with a lens toward the links between ecological and human health. Some of these stressors include emerging pollutants such as micro/nanoplastics and pesticides, as well as the effects of climate change. More information on her research can be found on the Brander Lab web site.


Dr. Brander is currently advising graduate students from Environmental and Molecular Toxicology (Sara Hutton) , Fisheries and Wildlife (Katherine Lasdin and Anna Bolm), and Marine Resource Management (John Dickens) in CEOAS. Her research is also currently supported by Laboratory Technician Emily Pedersen and Postdoctoral Scholar Samreen Siddiqui.

Dr. Taylor Chapple on Shark Week

Dr. Taylor Chapple appeared on Alien Sharks: First Contact on Discovery Channel's Shark Week in August 2020. This program is about how little we know about many deep water species – Dr. Chapple was working in Prince William Sound to study the Pacific Sleeper Shark (Somniosus pacificus). Little is known about the hunting strategies of these cold, slow-moving sharks. Dr. Chapple was putting biologging camera tags on them to learn more about their movements and prey interactions, with the goal of beginning to understand their role in deep water ecosystems.

COMES' Seafood Research and Education Center Hosts Pacific NW Coast Environmental Regulatory Updates Webinar for Industry, Agencies

While the pandemic has changed many of the ways that we all do business, COMES faculty continue to provide critical information, resources, and venues for interaction to our industry and agency partners. In 2018 the COMES Seafood Research and Education Center (SREC) worked with Aqua-Terra Consultants and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to develop a conference aimed at helping Oregon’s seafood processors improve their methods by exploring best practices for minimizing product loss to water used during processing.  This conference also provided a forum that facilitated communication among seafood processors, service providers, and agencies.  The success of the 2018 conference lead to the suggestion by stakeholders that this effort be continued in 2019 and 2020.  Of course, 2020 led to some logistical challenges in holding an in-person conference.  Working with the conference advisory committee, SREC designed and hosted a free webinar attended by over 100 people associated with seafood processing, state and federal agencies, and NGOs throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The three-hour webinar offered in 2020 focused on delivering environmental regulatory updates from Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and British Columbia.  A section of the presentation was also delivered by representatives of the US Environmental Protection Agency, and it focused on the WAG520000 general permit for on-vessel processing of seafood in federal waters off the Oregon and Washington coasts.  This permit is issued and administered by EPA Region 10.  The webinar concluded with a Q&A session – permitting requirements for both at-sea and terrestrial processing were the focus of many questions.

Webinar speakers:

  • Tiffany Yelton-Bram, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
  • Ranei Nomura, Western Region Department of Environmental Quality
  • Tim McFetridge, Water Quality Engineer
  • Hiro Kusakabe, Washington Department of Ecology
  • Jackie Ebert, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Sally Goodman, NPDES Environmental Protection Agency
  • Susan Poulsom, Environmental Protection Agency Region 10
  • Alan Ismond, P. Eng., Aqua Terra Consultants
  • Steve Hammer, P. Eng., SLR Consultants
The agenda and the recorded webinar are on the OSU Seafood Lab website.

COMES-Newport Faculty Present Lightning Talks and Facilitate Breakout Groups at 2nd Annual HMSC Research Summit

Hatfield Marine Science Center hosted its 2nd Annual Research Summit on October 20, 2020. Although the event was virtual, it was attended by over 130 people representing OSU, NOAA, ODFW, EPA, and the community, all of whom were excited to learn about what others are working on and to explore collaborative partnerships.

Three COMES-Newport Faculty gave "lightning talks" and hosted breakout sessions during the Summit.

Dr. Susanne Brander's section focused on marine debris, noting that the study of plastic waste in our oceans is a relatively new field of research. She presented the variety of attributes that must be considered when analyzing the impacts of micro- and nanoplastics on marine ecosystems, and that topic was continued in her breakout conversation. Dr. Brander also highlighted the National Science Foundation grant that now funds the Pacific NW Consortium on Plastics (Stacey Harper, Environmental and Molecular Toxicology - PI, Susanne Brander - co-PI, Chris Langdon - co-Investigator).

Dr. Kathleen O'Malley emphasized the highly collaborative nature of the State Fisheries Genomics lab, as well as the importance of genetic and genomic technologies in relation to fisheries management. These methodologies can be used to differentiate between similar-looking species (e.g., Blue Rockfish and Deacon Rockfish), and to determine discrete populations of Chinook salmon and Albacore tuna. Dr. O'Malley noted that if commercial or recreational fishers are interested in assisting with this research by providing small fin clips from Chinook salmon caught in coastal rivers or from Albacore, they are most welcome - please contact her at

Dr. Taylor Chapple's talk focused on the cutting-edge technologies he uses to study the movement and behaviors of sharks. Although traditional tags can be used to determine horizontal movements, Dr. Chapple has incorporated biologging camera tags into his work, which provide more comprehensive information about the fine-scale movements of these marine predators. The data provide detailed information on 3-dimensional movements, behaviors, physiology and inter-and intraspecies interactions of these animals. In addition, Dr. Chapple's research makes use of autonomous vehicles (e.g., saildrones and gliders) to gather environmental data related to the movement of these big fish. He also leads a collaborative group working to install an advanced acoustic telemetry system spanning the entire West Coast to track migration and movement patterns of all tagged species. His breakout conversation focused on breaking down barriers to advances in emerging technologies to answer the next generation of questions. The session spanned current and future technologies, collaborative environments, and shared resources to create these technologies – most notably the forthcoming Innovation Lab at the Marine Studies Building.

You can watch the plenary session and lightning talks below.


Aquaculture News

Aquaculture is of interest across Oregon State University, as evidenced by a multi-disciplinary, cross-College working group that met several times between Summer 2019 and Spring 2020. This group, led by HMSC Director Dr. Bob Cowen and COMES’ Former Director and Emeritus Professor Dr. Gil Sylvia, generated content for the OSU Aquaculture web page (hosted by the OSU Marine Studies Initiative), and yielded a white paper detailing the case for advancing aquaculture at OSU. This white paper was delivered to OSU leadership this summer, and we eagerly await their feedback.

Dr. Sylvia is also working with the Oregon Aquaculture Association, the OSU Institute for Natural Resources Explorer program, and others to develop interactive maps and financial models to assess potential sites for aquaculture in Oregon. This project and others seek to support aquaculture investment and strengthen the economic benefits that come with a robust aquaculture industry, while providing increased food security for Oregon and the U.S.

Have you ever wondered what Dr. Chris Langdon's Aquaculture Lab at HMSC looks like and what they do there? A new series of "Virtual Field Days" videos shares exactly that - check out the first two below!

Dr. Chris Langdon provides a short overview of the COMES aquaculture program:

Faculty Research Assistant David Madison gives a tour of the facilities:


Aquaculture related courses are also quite popular. Dr. Langdon and Research Associate Dr. Matt Hawkyard are jointly teaching an Aquaculture Ecampus class (lecture and lab), which boasts enrollment of nearly 50 students between the undergraduate and graduate sections. Students hail from Oregon and across the US.

COMES Congratulates Two Students on Completing Degrees and Welcomes New Staff and Students

Although completing a degree, starting a new job, doing a summer internship, or starting graduate school looks very different at the moment, all of these milestones continue. We are excited to announce two degree completions from COMES students, and to introduce several new staff members and students have started with COMES over the last few months.  Some are working remotely from quite a distance (Australia!) and many are starting their graduate coursework online instead of in the classroom, but we are very thrilled to have them all on board!

COMES congratulates Andy Teahan and Victoria Quennessen on completing their degrees this summer. Advised by Dr. Michael Banks, Andy earned an M.S. in Marine Resource Management, thesis title Marine Heatwaves Influence Depth Preferences of Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). He has temporarily rejoined the Banks lab to follow up on some of the research he began for his thesis. Vic earned her M.S. in Fisheries, and is continuing on with advisor Will White for her Ph.D.  Her thesis, titled Accounting for Transient Dynamics Improves Use of Marine Protected Areas as a Reference Point for Fisheries Management, is awaiting publication.

Dr. Taylor Chapple (remotely) advised five National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) students this summer. Mariah Daniel, Maddie Gulick, Megan Osgood, Jessica Rodgers, and Melina Grace Wettstein assisted Dr. Chapple in analyzing data and video from his field work. All of them continue to work in Dr. Chapple’s lab at this time.  In addition, Dr. Brett Dumbauld (USDA-ARS, courtesy faculty Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife/COMES) hosted Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholar Natalie Holsclaw on-site at Hatfield this summer.  You can learn a little more about each of these students and their summer projects on the 2020 Summer Students page on our website.

COMES welcomes 6 new graduate students this fall – click on their names to learn more about their research areas:

Geoffrey Walker – Kathleen O’Malley, Advisor (M.S., Fisheries and Wildlife)
Henry Fleener – Chris Langdon, Advisor (M.S., Fisheries and Wildlife)
Hyung Joo (Kevin) Kim – Jae Park and Christina DeWitt, Advisors (M.S., Food Science and Technology)
Christina Parker – Jessica Miller, Advisor (Master of Natural Resources, Fisheries Management)
Austin Williams – Brett Dumbauld, Advisor (M.S., Marine Resource Management)
Annie Merrill – Brett Dumbauld, Advisor (M.S., Marine Resource Management)

Finally, several COMES labs have recently added staff.  Craig Norrie joined Jessica Miller’s Marine and Anadromous Fisheries Ecology lab as a Postdoctoral Scholar just weeks before we all started working remotely, and we are very glad that he has decided to stay in Newport despite the position being a little different than he was expecting. The OSU Seafood Lab hired Faculty Research Assistant Emilee Slaght, who supports the research of Christina DeWitt, Jae Park, and Jung Kwon. Kathleen O’Malley’s State Fisheries Genomics Lab welcomed two new Faculty Research Assistants – Cristín Fitzpatrick and David DayanAntonia Barela joined Chris Langdon’s Aquaculture Lab as an algologist. Philip Shirk has joined Michael Banks’ Marine Fisheries Genomics, Conservation, and Behavior Lab as a Postdoctoral Scholar. Finally, Will White’s Fisheries Oceanography and Population Dynamics Lab has been fortunate to bring on two new employees during COVID – Jess Hopf (postdoctoral scholar) and Fabio Caltabellotta (Research Associate), both of whom are working remotely from quite a distance – Australia and Florida, respectively.

Banks Lab Collaboration with Oregon State Productions Yields Song of the Salmon

Occasionally COMES researchers have the opportunity to participate in less conventional types of collaboration and outreach. Dr. Heather Auld, a Behavioral Ecology Research Associate in Dr. Michael Banks’ Marine Fisheries Genomics, Conservation, and Behavior Lab, is conducting an ongoing project researching whether the ways in which salmon select their mates in the wild might be used to simulate wild-like mating choices in a hatchery context using genetic information. Goals of this research include increased fitness of the hatchery offspring and recruits to the fishery.

Inspired by this project, and through independent funding, Dr. Auld, Dr. Banks, and others collaborated with Oregon State Productions to produce a beautiful short film titled Song of the Salmon. This film features science, art, and culture, including a poem by Luhui Whitebear, an enrolled member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation and the Assistant Director of the Oregon State University Native American Longhouse Eena Haws. The poem beautifully encapsulates the journey salmon take to spawn, from ocean back to natal stream, and the importance of finding a mate that will ensure robust offspring to continue the Salmon Nation. Submitted to several 2020 film festivals, you can watch it below.


COMES-Newport Lab Groups Move to Valley Marine Studies Building
As you can see from the photo above, the Gladys Valley Marine Studies Building at HMSC is beautiful - but it wasn't so lovely on the days when all of the lab equipment, samples, files, and office supplies were being moved from offices in the 900 buildings, NAL, and RSF into the new space. Under a cloud of wildfire smoke and raining ash, HMSC personnel and professional movers transported everything to the new building - for COMES-Newport, the lab groups that moved include Dr. Kathleen O'Malley's State Fisheries Genomics Lab, Dr. Michael Banks' Marine Fisheries Genomics, Conservation, and Behavior Lab, Dr. Will White's Fisheries Oceanography and Population Dynamics Lab, and Dr. Taylor Chapple's Biological and Ecological Dynamics of Marine Predators Lab. Dr. O'Malley's and Dr. Banks' labs are located on the second floor, and Dr. White and Dr. Chapple are on the third floor.

OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative has put together a short documentary about the Gladys Valley Marine Studies Building titled Rising from the Shore – Marine Studies on the Oregon Coast. Please take a peek to learn more about how the building came to be, the many safety features incorporated into its construction, and how it is designed to serve both HMSC and the surrounding community.