A group of Alaska seafood harvesters say climate must be considered in all fisheries management decisions, with managers, in turn, given the tools to respond quickly to extreme events.
The comments from collaborators with the Salmon Habitat Information Program (SHIP), an affiliate of SalmonState, an Alaska initiative to ensure healthy wild salmon populations, were sent this past week to several federal agencies, including the National Marine Fisheries Service, in response to a federal request for recommendations on how to make fisheries more climate resilient.
Signers, including more than a dozen commercial, environmental and tribal entities, said that Alaska fisheries and fishing communities are experiencing in real time the magnitude and urgency of the global climate crisis. These changes, they said, include, but are not limited to, persistent, unusually high-water temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea in 2018 and 2019, unusually high-water temperature in salmon spawning grounds in Western Alaska, and shifts in abundance and range of economically and culturally important marine fish and shellfish species.
“Meaningful, equitable engagement with fishing communities must be a prerequisite to establishing board climate policy goals,” said Linda Behnken, a veteran harvester and executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “Alaska fishermen have been asking for protection of critical fish habitat for decades in the Bristol Bay watershed as well as the Tongass National Forest.”
The fishermen said it is critical that any ocean-based solutions be locally defined and crafted in a way that supports local livelihoods, both in terms of commercial fishing and traditional user groups. They said that the definition of “conservation” must include sustainable fisheries as an allowable activity.
Also on their list of recommendations is an improved reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act that ensures that fisheries management is science-based and uses a precautionary approach in all fisheries management decisions.
The collaborators said that climatic events have already directly impacted fisheries with large-scale pre-spawn die-offs of mature adult salmon and changes in prey availability at all life stages for all species and shifts in predator populations and ranges. Climate change has also impacted water temperatures that exceed survivable limits, caused large scale scouring of anadromous spawning beds due to flooding of freshwater systems associated with heavy rainfall events, and caused the loss of spawning and rearing habitat due to absence of water during drought and periods of abnormally high temperatures in summer months. These issues and more need to be play a role in decisions involving fisheries management, they said.