COMES Newsletter - Spring 2023

A Note from Christina:

As spring finally begins peeking out on the Oregon Coast, COMES is also turning a new leaf as we prepare for Dr. James Sulikowski to join us as our new unit director this week.  We are very excited about his arrival, and you can read more about him in the CAS announcement below.  As I reflect on the 3.5 years I’ve spent as Interim Director, it’s hard to comprehend all that has happened.  Two new tenure-track faculty members, one tenure track faculty retirement, countless staff and students entering and exiting the unit, a significant portion of COMES-Newport moving to the Gladys Valley Marine Studies Building during a wildfire, and of course the COVID pandemic. Now that we are all busy again with field work, conferences, external training opportunities, and other research collaborations, the world is really beginning to feel more like it’s gone back to normal.  I am very proud of all that COMES has accomplished throughout the last three and a half years, and I want to thank everyone in the unit for their hard work and tenacity. Leading this unit has been a challenging and rewarding experience, and I can’t wait to see what we’ll do next under James’ leadership. 


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

Dr. James Sulikowski Named New Director of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station

Following an exhaustive national search, Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences has named Dr. James Sulikowski as the director of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station (COMES).

Sulikowski joins COMES from Arizona State University where his former roles included the Associate Director in the School of Mathematical & Natural Sciences, and Director of the Interdisciplinary Blue Science Laboratory. Prior to his leadership there, he held a number of high-profile positions at both the University of Florida and the University of New England, as well as serving on both the Mid-Atlantic and New England Fisheries Management Councils. A renowned expert in sharks with deep experience in commercial fisheries and marine science, Sulikowski brings more than 25 years of interdisciplinary research and entrepreneurial administrative leadership to COMES. His work has appeared on numerous national television shows including Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” NBC’s “Today Show,” National Geographic “Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin,” and the BBC series “Rise of Animals.”

“We are excited to have James join the team and take on this leadership role at one of the most diverse marine research stations on the west coast,” said Staci Simonich, Dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Director of the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station. “His expertise in recognizing the profound importance of the ocean to both coastal and landlocked communities make him a fantastic fit to address the dynamic and complex balance between the needs of humans and the conservation of our critical natural marine resources.”

COMES includes two locations in Newport and Astoria, with key research focused on an array of issues and disciplines, including: aquaculture, big fish, marine fisheries genomics, fisheries conservation and behavior, marine fisheries ecology, commercial fisheries, oceanography and population dynamics, resource economics and marketing, environmental economics, seafood safety, quality and processing, nutritional pharmacology, and food processing and engineering With its scientists leading efforts in food production, economic development, and conservation, COMES serves a diverse network of stakeholders whose common goals are found in the long-term health and vitality of our marine resources and the communities that depend upon them.

“COMES plays a critical role in advancing discovery, with deeply embedded relationships in the varied communities that they serve,” Sulikowski explained. “I am excited to help lead COMES through the next phase of growth and to create a structural and functional powerhouse within the U.S. Pacific Coast and beyond.”

Sulikowski will begin his new role as director of COMES on May 15.

Reprinted Courtesy of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences.
White Discusses Marine Reserves Program

As we noted in the Spring 2022 issue of the COMES Newsletter, Dr. Will White recently served as co-lead PI for the 10-year assessment of the Oregon Marine Reserves Program. The assessment is complete, and the report was submitted to the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee of the Ocean Policy Advisory Council in fall 2022.  In order to share some of the results of that study and aspirations for the future of Oregon’s Marine Reserves, Dr. White recently participated in an online webinar hosted by Environment America, titled “Celebrating Oregon’s Coastal Ecosystems – A Decade of the Marine Reserves Program.” Dr. White, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Reserves Program Leader Dr. Lindsay Aylesworth, and Oregon Policy Manager for the Surfrider Foundation (and COMES Advisory Board Member) Charlie Plybon discussed the first 10 years of Oregon’s Marine Reserves and HB 2903, which seeks to increase science and research around the reserves while encouraging additional public engagment. HB 2903 is sponsored by Representative David Gomberg with bipartisan support from the Coastal Caucus.

Watch the webinar here:


COMES-Astoria at the Pacific Fisheries Technologists Conference

Although Dr. Christina DeWitt’s term as president for the Pacific Fisheries Technologists is over, the COMES-Astoria Seafood Research and Education Center had quite a presence at their annual conference held in Seattle in February.  COMES Professor Emeritus Dr. Jae Park gave a presentation detailing the history and future of Surimi School, the most recent session of which was held in Seattle November 29 – December 1, 2022. This event was attended by 89 industry leaders, including three from South Korea and one from Japan. After consulting past participants and stakeholders, it was determined that Surimi School will be held biennially – the next Surimi School will be held the weekend after Thanksgiving 2024.

Dr. Shin Young Park presented a poster on listeria inactivation in surimi crabstick, which is an industry concern she is working to address with her research. Dr. Shin Young Park is the third professor from Gyeongsang National University to take sabbatical at the OSU Seafood Research and Education Center, where she is hosted by Drs. Jae Park and DeWitt.

Dr. Rufa Mendez (Ph.D., ’22), alumna of the OSU Seafood Lab from Dr. Jung Kwon’s lab, joined the conference virtually from the Philippines to give a presentation titled “Biofunctionalities of Seaweed Hydrolysates and Synthetic Peptides From Pacific Dulse (Devaleraea mollis): An in vitro and in silico Prospecting Approach.”  She is currently a faculty member at Zamboanga State College of Marine Sciences and Technology.

Hailey Zhou and Bryan Gaspich, both graduate students working with Dr. Kwon, participated in the student oral presentation competition and won first and third places, respectively, earning $800 and a $400 prizes for their efforts.  DeWitt lab alumnus Duncan Pasewark (MS, ’22) was also in attendance – he currently works as an R&D Food Technologist for Trident Seafoods in Seattle, WA.

Finally, and not to be outdone, Dr. DeWitt came home with a $100 prize for winning the networking bingo game.  Well done, COMES-Astoria!

O'Malley Award to Study Bull Trout Supports MS Student Ben Wiley's eDNA Research

Dr. Kathleen O’Malley’s State Fisheries Genomics Lab (SFGL) was recently awarded $80,237 from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board for a project titled “Environmental DNA as an Improved Monitoring Technique for Bull Trout in the North Fork Malheur River.” Through this project, researchers will collect environmental DNA (eDNA) in tributaries to the North Fork to determine the presence of bull trout and inform upcoming restoration and land management actions.

Dr. O’Malley states, “This project will use a non-invasive, time-efficient, and cost-effective method to monitor the distribution of bull trout in the North Fork Malheur River, which is Oregon’s top priority for bull trout conservation actions.”

U.S. Forest Service collaborator Erika Porter initiated this project with environmental DNA sampling in spring 2022. Additional eDNA samples will be collected again in 2023 and 2024 with the aim of completing the project in spring 2025. This project also involves collaborators from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Burns Paiute Tribe, Malheur Watershed Council, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This funding will support SFGL graduate student Benjamin Wiley, who will be assisting in data collection and analysis as part of his M.S. research. Ben helped to explain why bull trout are an ecologically significant species:

“Bull trout act as both an indicator species and an umbrella species. They require cold, clean, complex, connected (‘The 4 Cs’) aquatic habitat to survive. If any of 'The 4 Cs' become compromised and bull trout's specific habitat requirements are not met, the population will decline. If a watershed's population declines, it is an indicator that overall function of the watershed is decreasing. Therefore, bull trout are an indicator of ecological integrity in many of the Pacific Northwest's more 'pristine' aquatic and riparian ecosystems. Due to federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), significant resources from federal and state management agencies are dedicated to protecting bull trout habitat from anthropogenic disturbances. Many other species of flora and fauna benefit from this 'umbrella' of aquatic and riparian ecosystem habitat protections. Bull trout were historically used as a human food source; however, contemporary bull trout protection under the ESA prevents anglers from harvesting them throughout much of their native range. Bull trout are an apex aquatic predator. In ecosystems without introduced species, the only non-human predator that will readily use bull trout as a food source is bigger bull trout.”

Ben goes on to discuss how this type of eDNA research may benefit future environmental management of riparian areas where bull trout are present:

“Bull trout are a particularly difficult species for managers to monitor. Like many apex predators, they inhabit geographically large ecosystems at low density. Furthermore, since bull trout are federally threatened under the ESA, managers try to limit the use of invasive sampling techniques (e.g., electrofishing, netting) to gather data. These circumstances present an extreme challenge for managers tasked with accurately monitoring bull trout populations. If quantitative eDNA analysis shows potential to track relative abundance of bull trout through space and time, this strategy could be widely implemented as an improved monitoring method. Equipping managers with an improved monitoring method will ideally lead to more informed management decisions. These informed management decisions may help to eventually recover bull trout populations enough to delist the species.”

Finally, when asked about the historical and contemporary cultural significance of bull trout, Ben offered the following:

“They are culturally and historically significant to many Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Natural Resources Departments from many tribes have devoted significant time and money to preserving and conserving bull trout populations. For many members of the public, bull trout are symbolic of the wild, pristine ecosystems they inhabit. Those who appreciate the existence of undisturbed, pristine ecosystems will benefit from research that seeks to maximize likelihood that bull trout can persist into the future at the confluence of modern society and the Pacific Northwest's wild riverscapes.”

Langdon's Research Legacy

Dr. Chris Langdon’s 37-year career at Oregon State University is a study in how to build and sustain partnerships with other scientists, with industry, and with entrepreneurs to support Oregon’s oyster and seaweed farmers.  Throughout his work with oyster breeding, Chris has worked closely with industry to address their needs, while partnering with scientists to help solve these critical problems, such as the effects of ocean acidification and diseases. 

Chris recently spent some time with OSU Precollege Programs to produce a video titled “Solving an Oyster Mystery with Dr. Langdon.” In this video (linked below), he discusses the life stages of oysters, the importance of the Whiskey Creek Hatchery, and transdisciplinary response to the first signs of ocean acidification as a problem for the oyster industry.

Furthermore, Sean Nealon’s article titled “A Legacy of Research Ensures the Future of an Industry” in the Winter/Spring issue of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences Progress magazine provides a solid career retrospective detailing Chris’s incredible contributions to the oyster industry.  Nealon’s article begins with a nod to Dr. Langdon getting close to retirement – whenever that does finally happen, he can be secure in the fact that his legacy will live on through his students, his research, and the partnerships he forged along the way.

Apart from oysters, Chris has also worked on developing aquaculture of the red seaweed dulse. The Newport News Times recently interviewed him about his work with dulse in “Providing Nutritious Seaweed.” Check out this article to learn more about how Chuck Toombs is working with Chris to grow dulse culture in Oregon while working with the OSU Food Innovation Center in Portland and Oregon chefs to create a market for this protein-rich sea vegetable. Chuck has fresh dulse from his Garibaldi farm available at New Seasons, Portland. In addition, several other dulse farms have started on the west coast as a result of Chris’ work.

Brander Lab in the News

As always, things are very busy in Dr. Susanne Brander’s lab!  In December (published in Jan) she spoke with Tom Banse of NW News Network about the ongoing microplastic research in her lab when he attended the PNW Consortium on Plastics meeting held at Hatfield.  She indicated that her lab is “...sampling everything and the kitchen sink these days to see if micro- and nanoplastics are accumulating...” and the overall answer to that question is “yes.” It doesn’t seem to matter what the sample is – fish guts, otter scat, human biosolids – more often than not there are at least trace bits of plastic, especially microfibers.  Brander’s lab members also intentionally feed plastic particles to mysid shrimp and small fish, observing overall results that ingestion leads to detrimental changes in the animals.  For more on Brander’s research and how the study of microplastics is informing bills in state legislatures across the West Coast, read “Foam dock floats, laundry filters, hotel shampoo amongst newest bids to reduce plastic pollution.”

Also in January, Dr. Brander was interviewed on the Finding Genius Podcast, where she discussed her research and some general information about plastics in the environment.  You can listen to this interview at “How Microplastics Impact Aquatic Environments – Exploring the Current Plastic Crisis.

In an April article in ScienMag titled “Looking beyond microplastics, Oregon State researchers find that cotton and synthetic microfibers impact behavior and growth of aquatic organisms,” Dr. Brander notes that even natural fibers can impact aquatic organisms. Through a comparison study led by former postdoctoral scholar Dr. Samreen Siddiqui, impacts of synthetic and cotton microfibers were shown to negatively impact growth and behavior in aquatic organisms. Dr. Brander does say that “The answer isn’t to stop using cotton but to have a better awareness and better control over the release of fibers,” such as through the use of microfiber filtration systems in washing machines.  Click here to read more.

Katherine Lasdin (M.S., ’21), alumna of Dr. Brander’s lab, recently published a paper titled “Presence of microplastics and microparticles in Oregon Black Rockfish sampled near marine reserve areas” in PeerJ. The paper draws on research Ms. Lasdin did for her thesis, and the publication is open source. She is now pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Washington.

Finally, Dr. Sara Hutton (Ph.D., '22), also an alumna of Dr. Brander's lab, recently published a paper titled "Comparative behavioral ecotoxicology of Inland Silverside larvae exposed to pyrethrioids across a salinity gradient" in Science of the Total Environment. Dr. Hutton is now an environmental consultant at Geosyntec in Seattle, WA.
Dr. Alexandra McInturf in CAS' The Source

As I write this, Dr. Alexandra McInturf is on a plane headed back to Ireland to do some additional tagging and research on the basking shark population there.  As we mentioned in the Spring 2022 newsletter, Dr. McInturf’s research on this important species has led to observations of decline in the California Current system.  However, her work with the Irish Basking Shark Group also contributed to the nation of Ireland’s decision to name the basking shark as their first protected fish species.

Dr. McInturf was recently profiled in OSU College of Agricultural Sciences’ Progress magazine for her work with basking shark conservation in Ireland, and you can read more about this exciting project here.

Dr. McInturf is a postdoctoral scholar in Dr. Taylor Chapple’s Big Fish Lab.

Kelp Forests and Purple Sea Urchins

How did so many of Oregon’s robust kelp forests turn into urchin barrens? What is an urchin barren, and what can be done to restore the kelp forests? What is co-culture and how might we use it to rehabilitate “zombie” purple urchins? And what is “uni,” anyway?

Get answers to all of these questions and more from Tom Calvanese (OSU’s Port Orford Field Station, Marine Studies Initiative), representing the Oregon Kelp Alliance, and Ford Evans (OSU’s Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station), by watching their recent HMSC Science on Tap presentation, linked below.


Chapple on KATU-2's Afternoon Live

Dr. Taylor Chapple recently paid a visit to Afternoon Live-Portland on ABC KATU-2 to talk about the Big Fish Lab, his research, and why the media narrative about sharks is not all it’s cracked up to be.  Click here to watch the full interview!

Did you know that the Pacific Northwest is home to at least 15 species of sharks?!  They range in size from the Brown Catshark (~2.2 ft or 65cm) to the Basking shark (>30 ft or 10m), with lots of sharks in between. To learn more about the sharks of the PNW visit our Sharks of Oregon page and explore the different species off our coast.

If you see a shark in Oregon or Washington, please tell the Big Fish Lab about it using the button below - It helps them learn more about shark activity in the PNW!

I Saw a Shark!

Student News

Olivia Boisen Profiled in Faces of AgSci

COMES and Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences M.S. student Olivia Boisen, co-advised by Drs Scott Heppell and Susanne Brander, was recently profiled by Faces of AgSci published by the OSU College of Agricultural Science.  From her research on the effects of plastics in our oceans to playing on the OSU men’s water polo club team, Olivia is Hooked on Water – read more here.  Olivia was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to continue her research through a Ph.D. at OSU – congratulations, Olivia!

Recent Graduates

Sara Hutton, Ph.D., Environmental and Molecular Toxicology – Winter 2022

  • Susanne Brander, Advisor
  • Dissertation - Comparative Aquatic Toxicology of Pesticides and Plastics Using the Model Estuarine Fish, Inland Silverside

Julianne Merrill, M.S., Marine Resource Management – Fall 2022

  • Brett Dumbauld, Advisor
  • Thesis - Juvenile Pacific Oyster Growth and Food Resources in Eelgrass Habitats of Variable Shoot Density in Tillamook Bay, OR: Ecosystem Interactions for Management Consideration

Jennifer Van Brocklin, M.S., Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences – Fall 2022

  • Susanne Brander, Advisor
  • Thesis - Hold the Plastic, Please: An Investigation of Sea Otter Exposure to Microparticles and Microplastics Using Scat and Diet Analysis

Austin Williams, M.S., Marine Resource Management – Fall 2022

  • Brett Dumbauld, Advisor
  • Thesis - Diel and Tidal Patterns of Nekton Communities in Eelgrass and Shellfish Habitat in a Pacific Northwest Estuary
COMES Newsletter

Writer/Editor - Alison Storms

Layout and Content Compilation - Alison Storms

Other Contributors - OSU College of Agricultural Sciences Marketing and Communications, Will White, Oregon Marine Reserves Program, Environment America, Jung Kwon, Christina DeWitt, Kathleen O'Malley, Ben Wiley, Chris Langdon, OSU Precollege Programs, Progress Magazine, Newport News-Times, Susanne Brander, Tom Banse/NW News Network, Finding Genius Podcast, ScienMag, PeerJ, Science of the Total Environment, the Irish Basking Shark Group, Alex McInturf, Tom Calvanese, Ford Evans, HMSC's Science on Tap, Afternoon Live on KATU-2, the Big Fish Lab, Faces of AgSci, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon Sea Grant.