Sea Grant 50th Anniversary: Celebrating the work of our Extension educators

Ron Kinnunen's work in the U.P. has benefited the citizens of Michigan.

Ron Kinnunen spawning lake whitefish on a tribal commercial fishing vessel in northern Lake Michigan as part of a Great Lakes Fisheries Trust research project. Photo: Andrew Muir-Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Ron Kinnunen spawning lake whitefish on a tribal commercial fishing vessel in northern Lake Michigan as part of a Great Lakes Fisheries Trust research project. Photo: Andrew Muir-Great Lakes Fishery Commission

In 2016, the National Sea Grant College Program celebrates 50 years of putting science to work for America’s coastal communities. Sea Grant is a federal-state partnership that turns research into action by supporting science-based, environmentally sustainable practices that ensure coastal communities remain engines of economic growth in a rapidly changing world. There are 33 programs across the country working to help build and grow innovative businesses along America’s oceans and Great Lakes, protect against environmental destruction and natural disasters, and train the next generation of leaders.

Established in 1969, Michigan Sea Grant is a collaboration between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. We offer research, education and community outreach on topics such as aquatic invasive species, coastal development, commercial and sports fishing, and environmental stewardship for youth. Our MSU Extension educators live and work in coastal communities around Michigan. We celebrate their hard work and take this opportunity to introduce each of them during this anniversary year. Our first featured Extension educator is Ron Kinnunen.

Ron is located in Marquette and serves 15 counties in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He has been an extension educator for 34 years. He earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Michigan State University majoring in Fisheries Biology and Management. His masters work focused on sea lamprey attack on trout and its effect on wound healing and blood chemistry. Ron obtained his PhD from Michigan Technological University where his research project focused on lake herring (cisco) recruitment and growth as a function of Lake Superior water temperature. HIs love of fishing and hunting made fisheries a natural career choice.

Ron was invited to interview for the Upper Peninsula Sea Grant position while he was employed as a clinical laboratory supervisor/fish pathologist at a fish disease laboratory in Hagerman, Idaho, where there exists the largest trout production facilities in the country. While working at this fish disease laboratory, Ron soon realized that he got great satisfaction by visiting with the fish hatchery managers in the Hagerman Valley working with them on their fish health issues. But with his position as a fish pathologist most of his time was doing clinical work in the fish disease laboratory with little time to do outreach work. When offered the job to return to Michigan to do Sea Grant outreach work Ron jumped at the opportunity.

Looking back at programming successes over his career, Ron highlights the development of the Underwater Preserves in the Upper Peninsula; being on the forefront of the Seafood HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) program as it developed in the U.S. and fulfilling the training needs of both the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries; developing the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS)-HACCP program that is now used both nationally and internationally; and being involved with the first recognition of rip currents in the Great Lakes and education that continues to save lives.

Challenges for the future will continue to be aquatic invasive species and their implications for the baitfish and aquaculture industries. Ron is working with collaborators on a project to explore an AIS-HACCP verification program for these industries that are often threatened with new50th annivesary logo and costly regulations because of the aquatic invasive species problem. There will also be challenges with the different types of aquaculture production systems that are being explored in Michigan and it is important that future decisions are based on sound science.

Ron suggests that students wishing to pursue a career with Sea Grant or some other area in environmental science should be planning ahead to at least attain a M.S. degree and when the opportunity arises they should try to get some field experience in their area of interest.