MN Sea Grant's Amy Schrank making progress for sustainable aquaculture despite pandemic

Minnesota Sea Grant's Amy Schrank moved into the WRC offices just in time to stay at home for the COVID-19 shut down. Minnegram recently checked in to see how Schrank was navigating research and collaboration during the pandemic.

Minnegram: Your Sea Grant profile states that you are "collaborating with stakeholders and researchers to understand the potential for an environmentally sustainable aquaculture industry within Minnesota and across the Great Lakes region." Is that work continuing during the pandemic?

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Amy Schrank hiking on the Eiger Trail near Grindelwald, Switzerland.

Schrank: Though the pandemic has made it impossible to meet with stakeholders and researchers in person, I have had success in making connections by both phone and video conference. One project that has moved forward despite the pandemic is our Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative Project (GLAC). This is a collaboration among all seven Great Lakes Sea Grant programs (led by University of Minnesota Sea Grant) with the goal of providing relevant, science-based initiatives that support an environmentally responsible, competitive, and sustainable aquaculture industry in the Great Lakes region. Through managing this project virtually, I’ve developed strong working relationships with all of the Great Lakes Sea Grant folks and made contact with many of our local aquaculture producers. I’ve been impressed with the ability of outreach and extension folks at both Sea Grant and the WRC to think creatively about how to keep programs moving forward despite being unable to travel or interact with stakeholders in person. Our GLAC project is hosting our inaugural event, Great Lakes Aquaculture Day, virtually on October 10, 2020. Despite being virtual, our one day conference will include a variety of panel discussions and presentations on aquaculture, chances for folks to interact in breakout rooms, and a virtual cooking demonstration and culinary competition. 

Minnegram: Are you working with WRC staff on any projects? 

Schrank: I’m not working directly with WRC staff at this point, however I have been participating in staff and other meetings that have been helpful in keeping me connected to the WRC group despite only working in the office for about a week before the pandemic hit. One recent event that has been particularly helpful for me is a group of WRC folks who are getting together to discuss tips and tricks for program management. Since I’m new to extension work, joining this ongoing discussion has and will continue to be helpful for my own programs and keep me connected to the work going on in the WRC.

Minnegram: What are you missing in this time of COVID and have there been any unexpected work positives during the pandemic?

Schrank: What I miss most is being able to interact with colleagues and stakeholders in those casual moments that happen during face to face meetings over coffee breaks or other informal spaces. Having said that, I have been pleasantly surprised by how well I have become connected to new colleagues despite interacting only virtually. In some ways, this has benefitted me since the majority of my Sea Grant colleagues are in Duluth and I am located in St. Paul. Because everyone was forced to interact only online within a few weeks of me starting in this position, it didn’t seem strange that I wasn’t in the Duluth office with everyone else. The pandemic put us all on equal footing in the virtual environment and I think I was able to become part of the team much more quickly then if I was the only person joining virtually to an in-person meeting.

Minnegram: Any highlights to share?

Schrank: Our most recent project that is really exciting is a new collaboration between the University of Minnesota Sea Grant Program and the Carlson School of Management here on the Twin Cities campus. We are collaborating with the Carlson Consulting Enterprise to study the Minnesota aquaculture and Lake Superior commercial fisheries industries to help producers increase supply chain efficiency and flexibility and improve processing capabilities to help producers weather current pandemic conditions and be ready for any future industry uncertainties. The team of three MBA students and one undergraduate will face the challenge of not being able to visit directly with many aquaculture and commercial fisheries producers, but they are a creative and motivated group and I’m excited to see what insights they will provide to help our stakeholders.