Impacts of Sea Otter Recolonization on Marine Resources and Coastal Communities in Southern Southeast Alaska
- Allison Rice, Marine Advisory Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks
- Ginny Eckert, Fisheries Division, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Please see The Southern Southeast Alaska Sea Otter Project website for additional information.
This project continues the Alaska Sea Grant project launched in 2010 to investigate the impacts of sea otter recolonization on four commercially important species and their associated fisheries (southeast Alaska sea cucumbers, red sea urchins. Dungeness crab, and geoduck clams). This project will provide stakeholders, resource managers, and policy makers with information needed to consider the impacts of a marine mammal predator on commercially important fisheries.
Sea otter population growth, and predation on commercially important shellfish species, are of increasing concern to commercial fishermen in southeast Alaska. At a recent Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting, seven of sixteen Dungeness crab proposals represented attempts to close specific areas to commercial or sport fishing for shellfish species, as a response to predation by sea otters. The proposals indicate a contraction of the commercial shellfish harvest due to sea otter predation. Finding meaningful solutions to the problems this presents to commercial, sport, and subsistence users is difficult, if not impossible, without a good understanding of the extent and nature of sea otter use of these species. Long-term business planning for commercial and sport shellfish harvesters is more difficult when the future health of the stock is uncertain.
Why is this an Alaska Sea Grant project?
One of Alaska Sea Grant's six key goals outlined in the 2009–2013 Strategic Plan is sustained, well-managed, and healthy marine, coastal, and watershed ecosystems in Alaska. The program pursues this goal through support of research that provides decision-makers with science-based information that can be used to craft well-informed policies governing the use and conservation of Alaska's marine and coastal resources.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association
Petersburg Marine Mammal Center
Petersburg Vessel Owners Association
United States Geological Survey and University of California Santa Cruz
Anticipated outcomes: Researchers will use the combined collection of foraging data, studies of sea otter movement rates, historic sea otter distribution information, and local and traditional knowledge to analyze fishery impacts and create a spatial model of sea otter activities as a tool to inform long-term business planning for commercial and sport shellfish harvesters, as well as provide information for the future management of sea otters in southeast Alaska. Researchers also will reach out to coastal community residents and stakeholders through meetings and a sea otter management workshop.
A UAF graduate student will be involved in this project and a doctoral dissertation will result as well as peer reviewed manuscripts. Additional research elements include investigations of ecological changes caused by sea otters and trends in the sea otter movements and recolonization, if additional funds became available. Researchers expect a minimum of two manuscripts to result from this proposed study, with target journals including Marine Mammal Science and Ecological Applications. Further, they will present the results of this work at the fall 2012 Alaska Chapter of the American Fisheries Society and the 14th Sea Otter Workshop scheduled in March 2013.