Carter Johnson

Ph.D.Carter Johnson

My research is focused on understanding interactions between sea otters and the Dungeness crab fishery in southeast Alaska. Sea otters were reintroduced to the area in the 1960s after decades of absence and as that population has grown, concerns have emerged around potential conflicts with fisheries. Through my research I hope to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics that control both sea otter and Dungeness crab populations in southeast Alaska and help inform the management of both species.


How did you initially become interested in your specific field of study? 

I grew up in Washington state and spent my formative years in and around the waters of Puget Sound — boating, crabbing, and scuba diving all fostered my interest in the ocean. I got my bachelor’s degree in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences from the University of Washington and while I was there, I worked as a field technician for a PhD student (Jessie Hale) studying sea otter ecology on the Washington coast. My experience as a field technician led me to the sea otter realm, and I’ve studied them ever since. I think sea otters are a fascinating species ecologically, particularly in their ability to impact coastal ecosystems.


What attracted you to pursue graduate studies at UAF? 

In 2019, I attended a sea otter conference in Seattle where I saw a presentation from my now-advisor Dr. Ginny Eckert. Her talk focused on sea otters in southeast Alaska, their role in coastal ecosystems, and the impacts they have had on fisheries — all topics I was interested in. I reached out to her a year later to discuss research ideas, and after working those ideas into the research proposal portion of my application, I received an NSF Graduate Student Fellow Program award that funded me to go to school. My experience at UAF has been amazing so far, and I’ve been lucky to assemble a stellar graduate committee that includes my advisor Dr. Eckert, Dr. Franz Mueter (UAF), Dr. Daniel Monson (USGS), and Dr. Anne Salomon (Simon Fraser University).


What motivates you? What do you think is important about your work?

Dungeness crab and sea otters are both incredibly important in southeast Alaska, and many groups of people have a vested interest in how their populations change and interact. Because sea otters can have such a big impact on the invertebrate species they eat, discussions around sea otters in Alaska are inherently tied to food security and economic well-being. Understanding how humans, sea otters, and our shared prey coexist is crucial and it is my hope that my research can help contribute to that understanding. It is a privilege to work where I do and I feel lucky everyday to be working on this project.


Have you faced any challenges in your pursuit of graduate studies? 

Finding my way into graduate school was a challenge and took me three years of applying. Balancing a full-time job with graduate school applications was a big hurdle, but I was lucky to have an amazing network of family, friends, and my partner that encouraged me along the way. I got a lot of “no’s” along my journey to graduate school, but I only needed one “yes” to get in — persistence is what eventually got me there!


What are the next steps in your career? 

Right now, I plan to stay in the coastal ecology field after finishing my degree. My dream is to work as a research scientist and contribute to applied research that directly informs management, whether that is with an agency, a non-profit, or some other organization.


What advice would you give to incoming or current graduate students?

Talk to as many people about your research topic as you can and do your best to maintain those connections — every person offers a different perspective. Graduate school research is inherently about the details, but it can be easy to get lost. Take time periodically to remind yourself about the “big picture” of your project and let that drive your research.