Alaska Sea Grant 2014–2016 Project Directory

Research and information on Alaska coastal and marine issues

As part of our core mission to enhance the wise use and conservation of Alaska’s marine, coastal, and watershed resources, Alaska Sea Grant supports a number of formal, peer-reviewed research projects through a biennial call for proposals.

Through each RFP, we seek creative and innovative research proposals in the natural and social sciences that focus on the environmental and economic viability of Alaska's coastal communities. For 2014–2016, we selected proposals that addressed either of two themes:

  1. Impacts on and strategies for coastal ecosystems and/or coastal communities adapting to change.
  2. Improvements to the economic and sociocultural sustainability of Alaskan coastal communities.

In addition to their scientific merit, and relevance to the themes above, research projects must contribute to one or more of our strategic focus areas and incorporate a significant program of outreach to communities or stakeholders. Additional favorable consideration is given to proposals that:

For 2014–2016, we funded eight projects as listed below. To read about projects from previous funding cycles, see our research archives.

NOTE: The linked titles below go to each project's summary web page in our research project database. To return to this project directory, use your web browser's BACK button.

Research

Habitat Degradation Due to Melting Glaciers: Effects of Glacial Discharge on Kelp Bed Community Recruitment and Succession in Kachemak Bay [R/101-09]

Melting of arctic and subarctic glaciers carries sediment-laden freshwater to coastal habitats. Glacial discharge can structure and degrade benthic communities through multiple mechanisms that may restrict settlement and alter succession. The goal of this study is to determine the influence of glacial discharge on recruitment (bringing in new individuals) and succession in kelp forest communities. Kachemak Bay is an ideal setting for this study as an estuary with points of glacial discharge along the southern shore, and currents from the Gulf of Alaska at the mouth transporting this discharge around the bay. Recruitment of kelp and other bottom-dwelling organisms and community succession are being monitored on cleared and uncleared control rocks. Also being monitored are sedimentation, temperature, salinity, light, and nutrients. Freshwater discharge at the head of the bay will be used as a direct measure of overall glacial discharge in the bay. Additionally, wave exposure, substrate rugosity (bumpy or ridged), mobile invertebrate grazers and predators, and sea otter activity (otter pits) are being monitored to determine correlations between these drivers and algal and invertebrate initial and post-recruitment densities. Assessing the variability in succession across a gradient of glacial discharge will be a step toward determining whether recruitment or post-recruitment pressure (such as competitive interactions) are altered due to physical changes caused by glacial melt.

Applying Regime Shift Indicators to Understand the Potential Impacts of a Multi-Year Cold Event on the Bering Sea Ecosystem [R/31-24]

Ecosystems occasionally undergo very abrupt “regime shifts”—such as the simultaneous collapse of crustacean fisheries and boom in groundfish and salmon fisheries that occurred over much of Alaska in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the past, sudden climate switches have been correlated with these ecosystem regime shifts. It is typically impossible to predict when ecological regime shifts will occur, and we have no ability to predict changes in climate. This lack of predictive ability creates considerable uncertainty for fisheries managers. However, research on early warning indicators for ecosystem regime shifts has been rapidly advancing, offering hope that we may soon be able to detect a situation where an ecosystem is at risk for undergoing a regime shift.

This project will apply the new class of early warning indicators to data from a long-running (1982–present) bottom trawl survey of the Bering Sea in order to test for signals of a new ecological response to the recent climate oddity. By applying the indicators to data for about 40 common fish and crustacean species, the project will provide information on community-wide resilience in the Bering Sea.

Economic Viability of a Directed Skate Fishery in the Gulf of Alaska [R/32-05]

Alaska has relatively healthy skate stocks. The most frequently landed skates in the Gulf of Alaska are the big skate and longnose skate, both of which are taken as nontarget catch in several longline and trawl fisheries. As a result of their abundance and relatively high ex-vessel value, there is a desire by fishers and processors to increase skate landings by allowing more nontarget retention or developing directed fisheries for them. Researchers seek to understand interactions among skate abundance, fisheries, and economics to aid in development of profitable and sustainable fisheries.

Recovering Humpback Whales and the Future of Alaska’s Hatcheries, Fisheries and Coastal Communities [R/111-04]

The recovery of humpback whales in the North Pacific after the end of industrial whaling is a conservation success. However, it also means there are a lot more very big mouths to feed. Recently whales have started feeding on juvenile salmon as they are released from hatcheries. Since these fish were raised to supplement salmon fisheries in years to come, whale predation is in conflict with salmon fisheries. The goal of this research is to evaluate how changes to hatchery release strategies could reduce the rate of whale predation and if it would make financial sense to make those changes. Researchers will use echosounders to map the distribution of salmon in the release area following different types of releases (e.g., releasing 2 gram fish vs. releasing 4 gram fish). They will use a long pole to attach a tag to the whales’ backs using suction cups. The tags will record whale movement under water to determine how much energy the whale spent while foraging. Researchers can compare the costs of foraging at hatcheries to costs of foraging on other types of prey like krill and herring. With enough tags, they can start to understand how characteristics of prey groups, such as density and depth, affect the amount of effort a whale has to put in to feed on that group. If hatcheries can change the characteristics of their fish in the water—for example by releasing them at a larger size—whales may be less likely to feed there. Finally, there may be some costs associated with alternative release strategies. The scientists will help determine if changes are financially sensible for hatcheries to implement.

Sustainability of Coastal Communities and Sea Otters: Harvest and Future Management of Sea Otters [R/111-03]

Scientists are studying the harvest of sea otters in Southeast Alaska through an analysis of US Fish and Wildlife Service harvest data and collection of local and traditional ecological knowledge. This interdisciplinary project brings together ecology and anthropology experts to identify pathways and outcomes for sea otter management, including co-management by tribal groups. Researchers will investigate how sea otter harvests have changed in space and time, how they affect the sea otter population, and other details. Recent increases in the number of sea otters harvested and underlying factors contributing to those increases will be investigated. Local communities, Alaska Native groups, fishermen’s groups, and government agencies are concerned about the growing sea otter population and their impact on resources to coastal communities, including important shellfish species for commercial, sport, and subsistence harvest. This project addresses impacts by sea otters on coastal ecosystems in Southeast Alaska and will inform residents and stakeholders from coastal communities about strategies for adapting to this change.

Industry-Based Documentation of the Effectiveness of F3 ‘Whale Pingers’ at Reducing Humpback Whale Interactions with Alaska Salmon Fisheries [R/33-03]

Fishermen are the best source of information on the effectiveness of whale pingers that they place on their nets. Researchers will document this information as gleaned from meetings, interviews, voluntary logbooks, and questionnaires. Researchers also will work with fishing representatives (Industry Working Group) to identify and design field experiments that address questions the fleets and resource managers have regarding the effects pingers have on whale behavior.

Long-Term Records of Abundance and Effects of Large Scale Climate Change on Alaska Peninsula Sockeye Salmon [R/31-23]

The sustainability of Alaska’s fisheries, including the sockeye salmon fishery, is of utmost importance not only to the health of Alaska’s marine ecosystems but also to the vitality of Alaska’s coastal communities. Investigators will collect and analyze sediment cores from Sapsuk Lake, a sockeye spawning lake with traditionally large sockeye returns, to determine fluctuations in numbers of sockeye returning from the Bering Sea over the last few thousand years. This is of concern to stakeholders in the area, as historically the Sapsuk system had large runs but fish numbers have declined in recent years to the point of impacting subsistence and commercial use. The project will use sediments from Sapsuk Lake to detect relative numbers of sockeye returning to this spawning lake over the last 4000–5000 years, reconstruct changes in past productivity of the lake, and construct a model that could identify numbers of returning sockeye. Since historic data periods are too short to capture the large climatic changes the world—specifically the north—is now experiencing, long-term data sets such as this one will help determine the effects of warmer and colder climates on Bering Sea sockeye. This project will add to the knowledge of stakeholders and policymakers and may inform future management decisions and improve the chances of sustaining economic and sociocultural stability in Alaska coastal communities.

Graying of the Fleet in Alaska's Fisheries: Defining the Problem and Assessing Alternatives [R/32-06]

The “graying of the fleet” encompasses concerns for fisheries policy makers, researchers, coastal communities, and the state of Alaska. Chief among these is how the succession of limited access permits and catch-share privileges will further exacerbate the exodus of valuable fishing privileges and seafood business opportunities from Alaska’s fishing communities.

This ethnographic, mixed-methods research will focus on the perceived and experienced barriers to entry and upward mobility within fisheries among youth and young fishery participants in Bristol Bay and the Kodiak archipelago. Researchers will assess how and why fishing communities and demographic groups in these regions are differentially impacted by problems arising from the graying of the fleet. One focus will be community and demographic differences in barriers to entry.