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Staff of the Office of Aquaculture

Headquarters Staff

Michael Rubino  |  David O'Brien  |  Susan Bunsick  |  Mike Rust  |  Bruce Morehead  |  Mark A. Rath  | Karen Pianka

Regional Coordinators

Diane Windham  |  Jess Beck-Stimpert  |  Laura Hoberecht  |  David Nichols


Headquarters Staff

Michael Rubino

Dr. Michael Rubino is the Director of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture and has led NOAA's aquaculture efforts since joining NOAA in 2004. Michael represents the Department of Commerce on the executive committee of the U.S. Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture. Prior to joining NOAA, he was the manager of New Funds Development for the World Bank's Carbon Finance Group. In the 1990s, Michael was at the International Finance Corporation, a private sector affiliate of the World Bank, where he developed renewable energy and biodiversity investment funds. Earlier he was the CEO of an aquaculture R&D company and a partner in a shrimp farm in South Carolina.  Michael also served as vice-chairman of the State of Maryland's Aquaculture Advisory Committee. He holds a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Michigan.  email: michael.rubino@noaa.gov

David O'Brien 

David O'Brien has been the Deputy Director of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture since 2012. David joined the office in 2006 where he served initially as Program Coordinator and later as International Coordinator. Mr. O'Brien started his career at NOAA in 2000 as a John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow and served for six years within the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources implementing listing and recovery provisions of the Endangered Species Act. A fishery biologist by training, Mr. O'Brien worked for two years as an aquaculture extension agent as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, West Africa prior to his graduate education. Mr. O'Brien has an M.S. in Marine Estuarine and Environmental Science from the University of Maryland, and a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Massachusetts.  email: david.o'brien@noaa.gov

Susan Bunsick 

Susan Bunsick is a Policy Analyst in the NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture. Susan leads legislative and regulatory initiatives in support of sustainable marine aquaculture development, and collaborates with the regional aquaculture coordinators and headquarters staff at NOAA and other federal agencies to address permitting challenges and improve regulatory processes for aquaculture projects. She has been supporting NOAA aquaculture activities since 2001, after completing a Master's degree in Marine Policy at the University of Delaware. While at the university, she co-authored a major study that developed recommendations for a regulatory framework for offshore aquaculture in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.  For most of the 1980s and 1990s, Susan conducted energy market and industry studies for the Department of Energy.  She began her career as an emergency preparedness specialist and later a budget analyst at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, following completion of an M.A. in Public Affairs from the George Washington University and a B.A. in Public Service from the Pennsylvania State University.  email: susan.bunsick@noaa.gov

Mike Rust 

Dr. Michael Rust is the Science Advisor for the Aquaculture Office. In this role, he works with NOAA researchers to implement a coordinated aquaculture research strategy across NOAA and in concert with other federal agencies. Mike also works to coordinate aquaculture research activities among federal agencies and academic and international partners. Dr. Rust comes to the program from NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center where his research focused on multiple areas of marine aquaculture.  He served as the Program Manager for  Aquaculture Research at the Center, the mission of which is to provide the scientific information and technology needed to create viable, environmentally sustainable marine aquaculture industries and to protect and restore wild fisheries. Mike has fisheries and aquaculture experience both domestically and internationally, in countries including the Philippines, Haiti, Norway, and Canada. He earned a Ph.D. in Fisheries from the University of Washington, dual M.S. degrees (animal science and international development), and a B.S. in Environmental Biology from the University of Colorado.  email: mike.rust@noaa.gov

Bruce Morehead 

Bruce Morehead is currently a consultant to the Aquaculture Office.  Prior to joining the Aquaculture Program in 2005, Mr. Morehead worked for the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in a variety of capacities for over 30 years. He held management positions in the areas of fishery development, seafood safety, utilization research, fishery disaster relief and fishery management where he served as Deputy and Acting Director for the NMFS Office of Sustainable Fisheries before retiring from federal service.  From 1995 to 2004, his Sustainable Fisheries Office responsibilities included the coordination of NMFS aquaculture activities. Mr. Morehead holds a M.B.A. from American University and a B.A. from Gettysburg College with a major in Economics. email: bruce.morehead@noaa.gov

Mark A. Rath 

Mark serves as the Science Coordinator for the Office of Aquaculture. He acts as a liaison between government scientists, regulators, and the public, placing him in a unique position to bridge science and practice. Prior to joining NOAA in 2016, Mark worked in several sectors of the aquaculture industry including food and ornamental fish production, restoration, public aquariums, agricultural extension and aquatic research models. He earned his M.S. in Aquaculture from the University of Maryland Marine Estuarine and Environmental Science program in 2004 and over the years has worked with many species, including tilapia, yellow perch, striped bass, Atlantic sturgeon, menhaden, blue crabs, oysters, clownfish, sea urchins, African clawed frogs and zebrafish. Mark spent 10 years at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD helping lead their aquatics team in the development and management of over 15 different aquaculture research laboratories on that campus and at the Walter Reed Military Medical Center. In 2011-2012 Mark served as President of the Zebrafish Husbandry Association. email: mark.a.rath@noaa.gov

Karen Pianka 

Karen Pianka is the Aquaculture Fellow in NOAA Aquaculture Program. She is a recipient of the 2016 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. Her marine policy research has focused on shellfish and seaweed aquaculture as an income diversification opportunity for commercial lobstermen, and her marine biology research has explored the development of ecologically friendly treatments for blister
worms in Eastern oysters. Karen's background includes experience working in the aquarium industry as well as serving as the Wildlife Permits Coordinator for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Both of these experiences afforded her the opportunity to work close to the interface between science and policy, which she is looking forward to continuing. Karen has dual M.S. degrees in Marine Policy and
Marine Biology from the University of Maine. email: karen.pianka@noaa.gov

Regional Aquaculture Coordinators (based in NOAA Fisheries Regional Offices)

Diane Windham 

Diane Windham is the Southwest Regional Aquaculture Coordinator for the Aquaculture Office.  She works out of the Sacramento office of NOAA Fisheries Southwest Regional Office in California. Ms. Windham has over 24 years of federal regulatory experience, including 17 years with NOAA Fisheries. Before becoming the Southwest Regional Coordinator, she worked as a Supervisory Fish and Wildlife Biologist at the NOAA Fisheries Sacramento office, working on recovery planning and other Endangered Species Act (ESA) issues. She has an extensive background in the federal ESA regulatory program, including Section 7 and 10 activities, as well as with NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Ms. Windham holds a BA in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara.  email: diane.windham@noaa.gov

Jessica Beck-Stimpert

Dr. Jessica Beck-Stimpert has been the Southeast Regional Aquaculture Coordinator for the Aquaculture Office since 2008. She is based out of the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office located in St. Petersburg, Florida where she works with federal and state agencies, industry, and members of the scientific, academic, and NGO communities on a variety of marine aquaculture issues. Recently, Dr. Beck-Stimpert finalized rulemaking efforts for the Gulf of Mexico Aquaculture Fishery Management Plan which marks the first comprehensive permitting program for aquaculture in U.S. federal waters. She received an M.S. in Biological Sciences from Florida Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M University, where she conducted research on larval finfish feeding behaviors and pre-release conditioning for state stock enhancement programs. Email: jess.beck@noaa.gov

Laura Hoberecht 

Dr. Laura Hoberecht is the Aquaculture Coordinator for Oregon and Washington in the West Coast Region. In this role, she facilitates the exchange of aquaculture-related science and policy information between NOAA's Aquaculture Program and federal, state, local, and tribal entities, as well as the general public. She has been extensively involved in the development and implementation of the Washington Shellfish Initiative and the Shellfish Interagency Permit Team. Current projects include updating Washington's net pen siting guidelines and developing an Oregon Shellfish Initiative. Dr. Hoberecht has worked in the field of marine science for over 20 years. She received her BS degree in Food Science and Nutrition from the University of California, Berkeley and her MS and PhD degrees in Aquatic and Fishery Science from the University of Washington. Dr. Hoberecht's graduate work focused on population dynamics modeling and marine lipids. She has worked for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) since 1997, starting as a contractor doing field work in Alaska, then as a Fishery Biologist in California conducting ESA and EFH consultations, and since 2011 as an Aquaculture Coordinator. email: laura.hoberecht@noaa.gov

David Nichols

David Nichols joined the program in May 2016 as the Pacific Islands Regional Aquaculture Specialist. While his office is in Honolulu, David is responsible for working with industry and research partners to develop appropriate offshore technologies throughout the Pacific Islands
Region including American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and Hawaii. A primary goal for the Region is to promote simplified regulatory processes in cooperation with state and other responsible federal agencies. David is currently leading the development of an Aquaculture Management
Plan in the Pacific Islands Region. Prior to joining the aquaculture program, David was the NMFS Regional Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 6 Coordinator and ESA Section 7 biologist. He has been in Hawaii since 1999 and has worked with the Humpback Whale National
Marine Sanctuary, the state of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources and NOAA’s fishery observer program. David received his B.S. degree in biology from the University of Southern Indiana. His master’s degree research at the University of Southern Mississippi focused on the environmental physiology of shrimp. email: david.nichols@noaa.gov