Ocean acidification and Alaska fisheries: Views and voices of Alaska’s fishermen, marine industries and coastal residents

In winter 2011-2012 the Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC) sponsored community roundtable discussions on ocean acidification and Alaska fisheries in the fisheries-dependent communities of Homer, Kodiak and Dillingham in southern Alaska.

The roundtables were designed to engage coastal Alaskans and members of the Alaska seafood industry whose lives and local economies will be affected by changes linked to ocean acidification (OA). Specifically, the roundtables were intended to accomplish three inter-related goals: 1) bring together the efforts and expertise of scientists, subsistence harvesters, commercial fishermen, natural resources managers and coastal residents to better assess and address the impacts of OA on local fisheries and livelihoods; 2) develop ideas and advance dialogue concerning the needs and potential contributions of fishermen and fishing communities in responding to the threat posed by OA; and 3) provide insight into how the fishing industry might engage in policy action related to OA in the future.

Each roundtable discussion was set into motion with a presentation given by a leading scientist in the field. In Homer and Dillingham, the presentation was given by Dr. Jeremy Mathis, a chemical oceanographer and director of the Ocean Acidification Research Center (OARC) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In Kodiak, roundtable participants listened to a presentation by Dr. Robert Foy, director of NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center Kodiak Laboratory. The discussion which flowed from scientific presentations included key topics: research priorities; economic and ecological concerns and constraints; rural energy (in)efficiencies and upgrades; local-level engagement and OA adaptive strategies; and contributions to OA science and policy from the coast and fishing industry. In total, 55 people participated in the community roundtables. Key findings are listed below and elaborated on more fully in the following pages. These findings reflect the views, vulnerabilities and interests of the fishermen, marine industry stakeholders and community members who attended the roundtables.

Key Findings

  • The science about ocean acidification is a clear reason for concern for the health and productivity of the oceans coastal Alaskans depend on.
  • The economic value of Alaska’s commercial fisheries approaches $4 billion (first wholesale value), but it is not known how ocean acidification will affect specific fisheries and what the cost will be to the seafood industry and fishery-dependent communities.
  • Fishermen and shellfish farmers want to participate in scientific monitoring of ocean pH. Fishermen aboard vessels can collect water samples and shellfish growers are skilled observers of local conditions.
  • In addition to quantifiable economic impact, coastal Alaskans are concerned about damaging traditional uses of marine resources and harm that will come to the ecosystem that supports those resources.
  • Because of uncertainty about what the exact impacts of ocean acidification on fisheries will be, concerns about the future tend to be eclipsed by more immediate and tangible issues facing fishermen and fishing communities. One exception was the shellfish growers who are already experiencing the loss of oyster spat due to corrosive waters in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Despite acknowledgement that ocean acidification is inevitable and the exact consequences are unknown at this time, doom and gloom attitudes did not permeate the discussion. Roundtable participants explored ways to address the root cause of ocean acidification in order to mitigate its effect, including reducing carbon emissions as individuals, industries, communities and nationally. They recognized the economic benefits of clean energy, especially in rural Alaska where the cost of living soars with fuel prices.

 

Rachel Donkersloot, Coastal Voices on Ocean Acidification Project, Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Report web site.


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