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Minnesota Sea Grant History

In 1963, far from salt water, University of Minnesota professor Athelstan Spilhaus envisioned the U.S. Sea Grant college concept. Three years later, the federal government funded the idea. It took another nine years (1975) for the MN Marine Advisory Service, a Sea Grant outreach presence, to become established on the Duluth Campus of the University of Minnesota. Growing in resources and stature, the University of Minnesota was named as a bona fide Sea Grant Program in 1977 and funded four fisheries research projects.

By the mid-80’s, Minnesota Sea Grant gained college status (the highest award for a Sea Grant Program) and its researchers had sunk to the bottom of Lake Superior to explore the lake’s floor. They also revealed that atmospheric deposition was a major source of PCB pollution, a discovery contributing to a ban on toxaphene. Meanwhile, the program’s outreach and education components were reaching multiple audiences with the "talking" lake trout (Lawrence), Sea Camps for kids, information on water diversion, and opportunities for University students. Minnesota Sea Grant's hypothermia suit research led to three products that grossed $1 million for Stearns Inc., a manufacturer of suits and flotation devices.

The program galloped into the 90’s, spreading news of “Sleeping Beauty,” a fish gene transfer technology that offered a way to correct flawed DNA; and the bonanza of fish oil swimming within Lake Superior’s siscowet trout population. Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) became a significant issue as zebra mussels populated the Great Lakes, warranting what is now known as the AIS Information Center.

Before the end of the last millennium, Minnesota Sea Grant helped to send crayfish to Sweden, sea lamprey to Portugal, and Lake Superior science into cyber-space. The program also lured 400 scientists to Duluth for an international conference on AIS. Our traveling trunks began their educational travels and Water on the Web went live, carrying real-time data from lakes to classrooms. Our researchers explored ways to control AIS with pheromones and herbivorous beetles, and discovered how microorganisms pass contaminants into Lake Superior’s food web. While staff worked diligently to address risks associated with genetically modified organism, questions posed over the phone to the Minnesota Water Line, and the contentious water related issues that pitted North Shore residents against agency personnel, the director’s office moved from the Twin Cities to the Duluth Campus of the University.

Minnesota Sea Grant stepped into the 21st Century without pause. Check out our milestones.

Program Directors

This page last modified on January 14, 2020     © 1996 – 2020 Regents of the University of Minnesota     The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
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