Leadership Profiles

Leadership Profiles

Kristen Koch
SWFSC Science and Research Director

Kristen Koch is the Director of NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) where she oversees 300+ science and support staff at laboratories in La Jolla, Santa Cruz and Monterey. As Director, she will continue the Center's strong multidisciplinary research programs on living marine resources, the development and application of ecosystem-based approaches to management, and on the impacts of changing ocean conditions on marine ecosystems, fisheries and protected species.

Kristen brings a broad blend of experience within NOAA and science management expertise to the SWFSC. Prior to being named Director, she served as the Deputy Science and Research Director of the SWFSC (since 2009). In this position she oversaw all internal program planning and operations of the Center. Prior to that, Ms. Koch held positions in NOAA Headquarters, most recently as the NOAA Ecosystems Goal Team Deputy Director (2007-2009). In this role she managed planning for NOAA's >$1B Ecosystems portfolio. Previously, she developed science programs for the NOAA Fisheries Directorate, including NOAA's concept for integrated ecosystem assessments (2006-2007).

Kristen initially served in the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research as Director of Programming, Planning and Evaluation in support of OAR's laboratories and grant programs focused on marine, climate and weather research (2003-2006). During her time in NOAA, she has also completed several temporary assignments including at NOAA's Earth Systems Research Laboratory, as Deputy Director of the NMFS Office of Sustainable Fisheries, and as Director of the NOAA Budget Outreach Office. She began her NOAA career in 1999 as a Presidential Management Fellow. Originally from San Diego, Ms. Koch received her Master's in Public Administration in 1999 from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 1991 from Mills College.

John A. Crofts
Deputy Director


John is the Deputy Director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC). He began his NOAA career in 2001 as a NOAA Corps Officer. He most recently served as SWFSC Chief of Staff and has served in a variety of scientific, advisory and management positions in NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, and National Ocean Service. He most recently served as the first operational Commanding Officer of NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker leading multiple surveys in the California Current and Gulf of Alaska. Prior to NOAA, he worked as a fish biologist for the Florida Marine Research Institute, captained charter vessels out of Homer, Alaska, and commercially fished Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound.

Newell (Toby) Garfield, Ph.D.
Director, Environmental Research Division 

Toby Garfield became the director of the Environmental Research Division (ERD), NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center in 2013. He is a physical oceanographer and has concentrated his research on shelf, coastal and estuarine circulation. For the last 25 years Toby has studied the California Current System using multiple observing tools, including traditional ship surveys, satellite remote sensing, moored instrument arrays, RAFOS Lagrangian drifters, and land-based HF radar. Toby earned his BA in geology from Williams College (1973), an MSc in Marine Sciences from the University of Delaware (1977) and a PhD in physical oceanography from the University of Rhode Island (1990).

Prior to joining ERD, Toby was a research professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey from 1989-1998 and professor of oceanography at San Francisco State University from 1998-2013. He served as the Director of SF State's Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Sciences from 2006-2013. He remains an Adjunct Professor in SF State's Department of Earth & Climate Sciences. He has been involved with numerous process studies and as one of the principle investigators of the California-supported Coastal Ocean Currents Monitoring Program that established a complete array of HF radar antennas to monitor surface circulation along the entire California Coast, is promoting large-scale ocean monitoring. This west coast array is the largest HF radar array in the world. Toby has served on the Executive Council of the NOAA IOOS-supported Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System and the California State University's Council on Ocean Affairs, Science and Technology. Toby is a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences and serves on the Advisory Council of the California Sea Grant.

Roger Hewitt, Ph.D.
Assistant Center Director for Ships and Infrastructure

As Deputy Center Director for Ships and Infrastructure, Roger is currently managing a major renewal of the sea-going and laboratory infrastructure for the SWFSC. A new Fisheries Survey Vessel (FSV) is expected to be brought into service in 2013-14 replacing the NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan, which was retired in 2009 after 45-years of service. In addition, construction is underway to replace the La Jolla headquarters of the SWFSC across the street from its current location. Roger's responsibilities include balancing available ship time against research priorities, developing realistic requirements for new ship construction, ensuring that temporary laboratory facilities will allow continued operations without loss of capability, ensuring that the detailed design of the new laboratory will meet our science requirements, and representing the SWFSC in discussions with partners at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, NOAA Fisheries and the NOAA offices involved with facilities and new construction.

Roger holds a Ph.D. in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, U.C. San Diego, as well as a Ship Masters License from the U.S. Coast Guard and Professional Engineering and Land Surveyor licenses from the State of California.

Roger's research interests include the use of acoustics to conduct resource surveys, foraging tactics of whales, seals, penguins and other seabirds in relation to their prey, biological responses to climatic variability, and resource management schemes that incorporate ecosystem considerations. He has authored over 100 papers, book chapters and reports.

Meghan Donahue
Director, Operations, Management and Information Division

Meghan Donahue serves as the Director of Planning and the Director of the Operations, Management and Information for the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries Service. Meghan started working at the Center as a volunteer in 1995. She spent the next seven years participating in field work, conducting research on marine mammals, serving as Editorial Assistant to the journal Marine Mammal Science and working with the Director of the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division on a variety of international and domestic marine mammal and sea turtle research and management issues. In 2004, Meghan became the Center's Planning Officer.

As Director of Planning and the Director of the Operations, Management and Information Division, she ensures the Scientific Programs are well supported by managing the Center's research planning and strategic development, administration and budget processes, performance management and oversight, environmental compliance and safety, graphics and editorial services, and human resource management.

Sarah Mesnick, Ph.D.
Science Liaison

Sarah Mesnick is the Science Liaison for the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC), NOAA Fisheries Service, an ecologist in the SWFSC's Marine Mammal and Turtle Division, and co-founder of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (CMBC) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, U.C. San Diego. Her research focuses on the behavioral and molecular ecology of marine mammals and provides a behavioral framework within which to investigate population identity, population trends, and fishery interactions in marine mammals of temperate and tropical oceans.

Sarah arrived at the SWFSC in 1997 as a National Research Council (NRC) post-doctoral researcher to study the genetic structure of sperm whales in the North Pacific and in 2000 was awarded a NRC senior research fellowship to study the impact of the purse-seine fishery for tuna on the behavior of pelagic dolphins. In 2001, she joined the Scripps community to establish the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, a unique interdisciplinary graduate program in marine science and conservation, in partnership with the SWFSC. In 2003, Sarah was hired as the Academic Liaison at the SWFSC and in 2005 the position was expanded to encompass the Center's external relations.

Sarah serves on the graduate committee of several PhD and masters students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and at universities in Mexico. She has authored or co-authored 45 peer-reviewed papers, book chapters, and reports on the behavior and genetic structure of marine mammal populations. Recently, she and colleagues have focused on the value of acoustic characters in identifying populations of blue whales, social disruption in tropical dolphins, and North Pacific and global genetic structure of sperm whales. She is involved in collaborative research in support of the International Dolphin Conservation Program, Federal Protected Resources, the NOAA Fisheries Service's Alaska and Southwest Region and the International Whaling Commission. Her research and academic work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Marine Mammal Commission, National Geographic and the North Pacific Research Board. She holds a doctorate (1996) and masters (1991) from the University of Arizona in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and graduated with honors from the University of California Santa Cruz (1983).

As the Science Liaison for the SWFSC, Sarah provides direction and support for the Center's external relations and the dissemination of the Center's science to a broad audience. Sarah serves as the SWFSC's liaison with agency, legislative and external partners and works closely with the Director's Office and research Divisions to build and support science and infrastructure initiatives. She serves as the SWFSC's liaison with academia, co-chairs NOAA Fisheries Service's Higher Education working group and is a member of the NOAA Fisheries Education Council. Sarah is a member of the steering committee for CMBC at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and has twice received the U.C. San Diego's Vice Chancellor's award for promoting diversity. Sarah is a member of the NOAA Fisheries Communication Team and serves as the SWFSC webmaster and coordinates media relations. As outreach coordinator for the SWFSC, she directs scientific conferences and public events. 

Heather Nicholas
Director, Information Technology Services/Regional Information Technology Coordinator

Heather Nicholas joined NOAA in July 2018, as the Director, Information Technology Services (ITS) Division and the Regional Information Technology Coordinator (RITC) for the SWFSC. She provides advice, guidance, and direction on Information Technology (IT) usage and develops plans to implement and leverage new and improved IT tools and capabilities. Additionally, she works with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Office of the Chief Information Officer to plan, develop, and carry out NMFS-wide mission critical information systems. She is also responsible for overseeing the day-to-day IT operations of the Center which includes providing Information Technology (IT) support to the staff at the La Jolla, Monterey and Santa Cruz laboratories.

Heather has over 20 years of experience working with the Federal Government while leading and managing a variety of IT projects and groups. She holds a Master of Science degree in Computer Science from the George Washington University School of Engineering and a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Hood College.

Annie Yau, Ph.D.
Director, Fisheries Resources Division

Annie Yau became Director of the Fisheries Resources Division (FRD) in 2019. She oversees the division’s development of scientific foundation for the conservation and management of marine resources in the California Current and Pacific Pelagic Ecosystems.

Annie served as the Life History Program Supervisor for FRD before becoming the Director for the division. Prior to coming to SWFSC, she worked as a stock assessment scientist at the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center's Fisheries (PIFSC) Resources and Monitoring Division and was later selected to lead their Stock Assessment (SA) Program. As the SA Program Lead, she executed a research program that conducted quantitative fishery analyses for pelagic and coastal species in both domestic and international fisheries. During this time, she also served in a temporary promotion detail as Director of the Fisheries Resource and Monitoring Division (FRMD). She received her Doctorate in Environmental Science and Management from Bren School at University of California, Santa Barbara and completed her undergraduate degree in Marine Biology at University of California, Los Angeles.

Annie’s career in NMFS focused on conducting and leading science to understand the life history of various marine species and using this information in stock assessments. She was the lead author on several assessments and her work included bycatch estimation, fishery-independent and fishery- dependent survey design, implementation and analysis, and associated software development.

Here at SWFSC, she focuses on conducting studies of age/growth, reproduction, stock structure and movement, and diets of coastal pelagic and highly migratory species.

George Watters, Ph.D.
Director, Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division

George Watters became Director of the Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division (AERD) in 2009; the division conducts research to advise the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) on the management of fisheries around Antarctica. George has been involved with Antarctic fisheries issues since 1991, when he first started work at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center as a GS-7 fishery biologist within the AERD and a Ph.D. student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. George's research centers on the using quantitative tools, particularly ecosystem and population models, to evaluate hypotheses describing alternative views about the production of living marine resources and advise on strategies for their sustainable management. For example, he developed an ecosystem model that has been used to advise on the degrees to which various options for spatially distributing catches of Antarctic krill among a network of coastal and offshore management areas in the Scotia Sea may risk depleting krill-dependent predators like penguins and seals. George presently chairs the CCAMLR Working Group on Ecosystem Monitoring and Management. This working group advises the CCAMLR and its Scientific Committee on issues related to management of the Antarctic krill fishery and spatial management (e.g., marine protected areas).

Steven Lindley, Ph.D.
Director, Fisheries Ecology Division

Dave Weller, Ph.D.
Director (Acting), Marine Mammal and Turtle Division

Dave Weller, Acting Director of the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division (MMTD), has been studying the biology and ecology of whales and dolphins for 35 years. His specialization is in the areas of behavioral ecology, population assessment and evaluation of potential disturbance impacts from human activities. He received his Ph.D. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M University in 1998. Prior to that, he completed B.A. and M.A. degrees at the University of Hawaii and San Diego State University, respectively. He has been in residence at Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) in one form or another (post-doc, contractor, term-employee and FTE) since 1998.

Dave has decades of experience designing field projects, collecting data and completing analyses to produce scientific end products. He has supervised multi-cultural field teams in remote and often dangerous conditions as well as overseeing laboratory and analytical work. A major component of his research since 1997 has been focused on gray whales. In his role with MMTD’s Cetacean Health and Life History Program, Dave is the PI for the two SWFSC gray whale surveys and has authored or co-authored 70+ papers or reports on this species. These papers cover both the eastern and western North Pacific, including areas off Mexico, California, Canada, Russia, Korea, Japan and China. In the past several decades, he has worked closely with the International Whaling Commission (IWC) as a member of the U.S. Delegation and NMFS Science Advisor to the U.S. IWC Commissioner. In addition, he is a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel.

Robert L. Brownell, Jr. Ph.D.
Senior Scientist for Marine Mammals

Robert L. Brownell, Jr. is Senior Scientist for Protected Resources at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC), NOAA Fisheries Service, in Pacific Grove, California. He has conducted research on the biology and conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises throughout the world with major studies in Mexico, South America, Japan, and Russia. Since 1995, Bob has led the U.S. side of the joint Russian-American research on the western gray whale off Sakhalin Island. He has published over 200 scientific papers, book chapters, and management documents on various aspects of whale, dolphin, and porpoise biology, conservation, and management. He has been a member of the U. S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) since 1975 and served as Vice-Chair and Chair of the IWC's Scientific Committee from 1985 to 1991. He also served as President of the largest international society for marine mammals, The Society for Marine Mammalogy, from 1987 to 1989. Before joining NOAA, Bob served as the Chief of Marine Mammal Research for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from the late 1970s to 1991. Between 1991 and 1993, he was the Science Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Oceans at the U.S. Department of State. In 1993, Bob became the Director of the Marine Mammal Division (now the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division) at the SWFSC in La Jolla, California, and then took up his present position two years ago. He has also been a member of the various marine mammal specialist groups under the IUCN (The World Conservation Union) for about 30 years and has served three terms as a Scientific Advisor to the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission.

Russ Vetter, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist for Fish Genetics and Aquaculture

Russ Vetter is Senior Scientist for Fish Genetics and Aquaculture. Russ's personal research interests have focused on Molecular Ecology and Spatial Ecology of fishes as revealed by studies of population genetic structure, electronic tagging of migratory animals, and the application of biotechnology and physiology to investigate effects of environmental stress on natural populations. Before becoming a Senior Scientist, Russ was the Director of the Fisheries Resources Division and previous to this, oversaw the Division's Fish Ecology and Fish Conservation Genetics Programs. The majority of his recent research has focused on determining population connectivity among rockfish meta-populations, the design and spacing of MPA networks, the effects of ozone depletion and increased ultraviolet (UV) irradiance on eggs and larvae, the movements of sharks and other large pelagic fishes and the bioenergetics of pelagic food webs.

Previous to joining the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Dr. Vetter was an Andrew Mellon Foundation Fellow and a member of the research faculty at Scripps Institution of Oceanography where he conducted research on the physiology and biochemistry of hydrothermal vent organisms. Dr. Vetter received his Masters in physiology from the University of Texas and his Ph.D in biochemistry from the Institute of Ecology at the University of Georgia. Prior to graduate studies, he served in the Peace Corps where he was posted to Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa. He is the author of over 75 journal papers, several book chapters, and technical reports.