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Mike Simpkins
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Mike Simpkins.  Photo credit:  Shelley Dawicki, NEFSC/NOAA.

June 10, 2015
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

Mike Simpkins Named NEFSC’s Resource Evaluation and Assessment Division (READ) Chief

Mike Simpkins has been named to lead the Resource Evaluation and Assessment Division (READ) at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). The division is responsible for research on fisheries, marine mammals, sea turtles, and protected species such as Atlantic salmon, and includes NOAA Fisheries Service’s largest social sciences staff. 

Simpkins will begin his new position on June 14, taking over from acting READ chief Paul Rago, who will return to his duties as leader of the Center’s Population Dynamics Branch.

After nearly five years as chief of the NEFSC’s Protected Species Branch, and several months serving as acting READ chief in 2014, Simpkins is optimistic that his career experiences will be beneficial to his new position.

“I am looking forward to working internally and with our partners and stakeholders to continue to improve our scientific advice and support the management of the amazing marine resources and species off our shores and the communities and industries that depend on those resources,” he said.

Simpkins became chief of the NEFSC’s Protected Species Branch in August 2010, directing research programs related to the management of marine mammals, sea turtles and sea birds in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean.

In his new position he will oversee protected species research programs, including salmon and other protected fish species. He will also oversee research programs focused on commercially and recreationally important fishes and on economic and socio-cultural aspects of marine resources.

“READ as a division is the core product delivery mechanism of the NEFSC,” said Simpkins. “We’re delivering products for protected species, for fisheries management, for understanding the social and economic ramifications of it all.  A lot is changing in our oceans, in our fisheries, and in our communities. It is an exciting time to be able to step into this role.”

Mike Simpkins was born in LaFayette, Indiana but moved frequently with his father’s service in the U.S. Navy.  Mike “caught the marine biology bug” in elementary school while his father was stationed at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.  He attended Pennsylvania State University, where he received an Honors B.S. degree in biology and an M.S. degree in ecology in 1994. His master’s degree thesis focused on symbiotic deep-sea tubeworms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Looking for an adventure and work after he completed his master’s degree, Simpkins headed to Alaska to pursue wildlife biology. He soon found an internship at the University of Alaska, Anchorage and work on a wilderness survival project. Work and funding opportunities fell into place at the University of Alaska’s Fairbanks campus (UAF) and in 2000 he received a Ph.D. in marine biology from UAF. His dissertation focused on diving behavior of ringed seals in the Arctic Ocean. 

After earning his Ph.D., Simpkins began his career at NOAA Fisheries Service in 2000 as a National Research Council postdoctoral research associate, studying harbor seal and Alaskan ice seal populations and behavioral ecology at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) in Seattle. He continued that work as a research fishery biologist at the AFSC following his postdoctoral appointment.

In 2004 Simpkins moved to Maryland to work as assistant scientific program director at the Marine Mammal Commission, a federal oversight agency. He addressed an array of marine mammal science and policy issues across federal agencies, and also directed the Commission’s research grant program.  He represented the Commission in a variety of negotiations, workshops, and working groups, including the development of integrated ecosystem research programs, bycatch reduction negotiations, and discussions of Arctic policy and research, marine debris, marine mammal serious injuries and unusual mortality events, and ocean health. 

Simpkins next served for two years as an International Fisheries Management Specialist at NOAA Fisheries’ Office of International Affairs, focused on developing and implementing trade measures to address foreign nations whose export fisheries have excessive protected species bycatch or whose fisheries engage in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.  Given his expertise, he also focused on international efforts to conserve marine mammals. When an opportunity arose to come to Woods Hole and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in 2010, Simpkins jumped at the chance.

In his new position, Simpkins will not only manage one of the largest research divisions in the Center, but also serve as a member of the Center’s Executive Board.  The division includes the Population Dynamics, Protected Species, and Social Sciences branches and the Atlantic Salmon Research and Conservation Task. READ staff are primarily located at Center laboratories and facilities in Woods Hole, Mass.; Orono, Maine; and Narragansett, Rhode Island.

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