Stepping up collaborative efforts with a Sea Grant "exchange program"

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Sea Grant extension staff are tapping into a valuable resource — their out-of-state colleagues — to help generate new ideas for their own program’s efforts and improve collaboration within the nationwide Sea Grant network.

Sea Granters from New Hampshire and Louisiana have recently kick-started efforts for what they call a “Sea Grant Exchange Program,” where, like an exchange student, staff spend time working with their counterparts in other areas of the country for a small period of time.

Twyla Herrington, Louisiana Sea Grant (LASG) area fisheries agent and Alan Matherne, LASG marine agent, met Gabriela Bradt, N.H. Sea Grant/UNH Cooperative Extension marine fisheries specialist, at the 2013 Sea Grant Academy. Their bond forged over swapping fisheries outreach stories from their home states, and that got them thinking: Why not continue the beneficial idea exchange that starts at the Academy and keep the momentum moving forward?

Their first exchange in March 2014 allowed Bradt to travel to Louisiana to participate in the Louisiana Fisheries Summit where she presented information on direct marketing of seafood in New England.

The experience allowed Bradt to start thinking of new ways of approaching challenges and opportunities back home.

“I came back to New Hampshire with a head full of ideas for potential additions and changes to my fisheries outreach efforts,” Bradt said.

The experience also helped Bradt to establish new contacts for potential future collaborations, she added. She accompanied Harrington and other LASG fisheries extension staff throughout the rest of their weekly activities, where Bradt said she learned about Herrington’s work with fisheries and ecotourism in areas impacted by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Bradt said it was an eye-opening experience to learn about the various ways extension agents are accessed by their stakeholders.  

“I did not know that as Sea Grant agents, we could be called upon to find out information on bait types and prices, or to speak to insurance providers,” she said. “It’s clear that many different people depend on Twyla and use her for the great resource she is.”

Herrington said she learned a lot as the host, too. “As a field agent, I assumed everyone has diverse duties but Gabby's job is much more focused than mine,” she explained.  “Understanding the expertise that resides within this network is invaluable for future projects and even dealing with current ones.”

“Thanks to this exchange, I am now comfortable picking up the telephone and calling these fellow Sea Grant agents if I have questions or to refer them to other people, because I now have an idea of what they can offer both in knowledge and experience,” Bradt explained. 

Although there is not currently a formalized process for these exchanges, Bradt and Herrington hope other Sea Grant programs are able to take advantage of their peers’ knowledge and efforts by participating in exchanges similar to this effort.

For photos of Bradt’s tour around Louisiana’s fisheries exchange week, please visit the N.H. Sustainable Marine Fisheries blog.

Rebecca Zeiber, N.H. Sea Grant Science Writer