PWSSC President and CEO Katrina Hoffman presents the 2024 Fisheries Achievement Award at the Copper River Nouveau in Cordova on June 8, 2024 accompanied with Board Secretary Tommy Sheridan, Rep. Louise Stutes and Stormy Stutes.

President and CEO Katrina Hoffman of the Prince William Sound Science Center (PWSSC) presented Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) Commercial Fisheries Director Sam Rabung with this year’s Fisheries Achievement Award at the 25th annual Copper River Nouveau last weekend. 

“He is one of the most honorable, upstanding individuals that I’ve had the good fortune of working with,” Rep. Louise Stutes said about Rabung during the event on June 8. “He is also a fisherman’s best friend. He does his job because he believes in it.”  

Rabung was not present for the award, so PWSSC board member Tommy Sheridan told the audience “to imagine a gentleman that is 6’7” with a red flat-top, a great human that is larger than life.”  

Jerry McCune, the 2022 Fisheries Achievement Award recipient, said he worked with Rabung and commented on his dependability.  

“He was always there to answer my call, someone you could always count on,” said McCune. “He has been one of the biggest supporters of hatcheries in Alaska, the success of them but also the impact they made to our economy.” 

Hoffman closed the award stating, “Sam, thank you for all you’ve done to help manage salmon more sustainably in Alaska. The field is better because you have been in it and continue to work on our behalf today.” 

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The Copper River Nouveau is a fundraiser that aims to celebrate the humble beginnings of the Science Center. In 1989, a trio formed that would ultimately synchronize into what is now known as PWSSC. Now 35 years later, it is located in a multi-million dollar building with numerous employees who hold PhDs leading the way in maritime culture.  

The event began at the PWSSC building, with hors d’oeuvres and freshly shucked oysters from Simpson Bay Oyster Company.  

After the award attendees trekked over to the Cordova City Center, greeted with platters of smoked brisket, garlic-herb marinated shrimp, and a cipollini onion tart accompanied by trays of Gris Blanc white wine. 

Stutes, whose husband, Stormy, was a commercial fisherman for 42 years, expressed her passion and desire for both the support and success of Cordova during this year’s event.  

“It is truly an honor to be the representative here,” she said. “It’s time I bring legislators to Cordova so they can see what’s going on here. Thank you for making me proud and thank you for giving me the honor.” 

R.J. Kopchak, PWSSC co-founder, said “the genesis of this organization (PWSSC) was by that little shack down in the harbor, having informal lunches with Rick Steiner, discussing the science happening at the time and wanting it to remain. Every agency and organization in town was involved in those lunches, and the paperwork was getting ready to file when that boat ran aground.”  

The boat he was referring to was the Exxon Valdez tanker, which spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil in Prince William Sound in March 1989. The science center quest and foundation was accelerated by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. 

Nancy Bird — employed for 22 years with PWSSC including as a past president — remembers the Nouveau in the early days. More than just a fundraiser, it was to “get people to understand what we were about.” Penny Oswalt-Stimson spoke to co-founding members Kopchak and Steiner after hearing about the inception of a science center, and recalled “I really wanted to make a difference. I couldn’t handle working in a spot where I had to ignore the oil spill.” Oswalt-Stimson was the first official employee with PWSSC. 

The audience remained entertained throughout the main fare with a live auction and games. The live auction brought in some big bidders, with the largest bid for a four-night package for two guests at a full-service remote flyout fishing lodge at Tikchik Narrows Lodge north of Dillingham. 

After the live auction, attendees could donate with “paddle pledges,” which had donations in increments starting at $5,000 and ending at $50. Over $60,000 in paddle pledges were donated by the attendees. 

The Science Center didn’t disclose the full amount fundraised at this year’s Copper River Nouveau, because officials hadn’t totaled the full tally, but Signe Fritsch — event coordinator and communications and development manager for PWSSC — said “the night went extremely well and we exceeded our fundraising goals.”  

Attendees finished the evening at the Reluctant Fisherman talking of salmon, science, education, and community resilience while dancing the night away. 

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