Alaska Sea Grant College Program Strategic Plan 2009–2013

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Letter from the Director

Alaska's marine and coastal environments, so precious to our residents and visitors alike, are constantly changing. As our country's most northern state, Alaska and its resources and people are seeing firsthand the impacts of a warming climate and acidification of our oceans. The pressures to use and develop Alaska's natural resources are ongoing in our nation's quest for energy independence and economic prosperity. At the same time, Alaska's expansive fish and shellfish resources continue to sustain strong commercial and tourism industries, as well as provide a source of recreational sportfishing and cultural well-being through subsistence harvests.

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program is charged with promoting a strong understanding of our resources, carrying out responsive research and training activities that support our coastal communities, and disseminating knowledge and technical information to assist in wise decision making about the development and conservation of Alaska's marine and coastal resources. The challenge for Alaska Sea Grant is to provide these services in the huge geographic area that is Alaska, with a budget not commensurate with Alaska's size or wealth of marine and coastal resources. To help us meet the challenge, we have developed this strategic plan to guide our efforts and help us focus our activities on achieving the most important goals

Our 26-member statewide Alaska Sea Grant Advisory Committee has played an active role in the development of this plan. We have received additional public input through a survey of Alaska stakeholders and input from our staff and Marine Advisory Program faculty. I thank them all for their hard work and dedication to our coastal resources and people.

We invite you to share your thoughts about this plan with us at any time.

—David Christie, Director


Alaska Sea Grant will help Alaska have the nation's most vibrant and productive marine and coastal watershed environments, maintained through ecosystem approaches to management, balancing wise use and conservation. Alaskan people and communities will reconcile different values about resource use and conservation by blending and applying objective, science-based, and traditional knowledge for the social and economic benefit of all Alaskans.


Alaska Sea Grant develops and supports research, education, and extension programs and partnerships to help sustain economic development, traditional cultural uses, and conservation of Alaska's marine and coastal watershed resources.


Sea Grant in Alaska

Alaska's Interests Are the Nation's Interests

Alaska often is depicted on maps of the United States as a small island somewhere south of California; in fact, Alaska's awe-inspiring landscape accounts for nearly one-fifth the area of the United States. Alaska's extensive natural resources help fuel the national economy, as well as the country's imagination, as one of the last great symbols of a proud, can-do frontier nation.

Central to Alaska's importance to the nation and the world are its marine resources, which are without rival in the United States. At some 36,000 miles, Alaska's coastline exceeds that of the other states combined. Waters offshore of Alaska cover about 75 percent of the U.S. continental shelf. These waters host some of the world's most abundant populations of marine life and influence the entire Pacific Ocean food web. The U.S. Arctic, experiencing the first impacts from global climate change, is located in Alaska's northern land and waters.

About 75 percent of Alaska's land and many of its marine mammal and fishery resources are owned by the public and managed by the federal government. Alaska residents, as well as visitors from elsewhere, place a high value on the vast undeveloped expanses in the state. And the appeal of Alaska each year draws over a million tourists from around the United States and the world, many of whom vacation in Alaska's marine and coastal areas.

Marine Resources Underpin Alaska's Society

The waters of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska annually yield more commercial fisheries harvest than the combined balance from the United States. According to NOAA Fisheries, Dutch Harbor/Unalaska has been the nation's number one seaport in volume of commercial fisheries landings for 19 consecutive years. Value of the commercial fisheries in Alaska exceeds $2 billion per year. In 2008, Dutch Harbor/Unalaska ranked second and Kodiak ranked third in value of landed harvest, with Seward and Sitka ranked ninth and tenth nationally. This ocean bounty helps maintain Alaska's national importance as a valuable source of U.S. natural resource exports.

Thirteen percent of U.S. crude oil production comes from Alaska, most of it extracted from wells along the coast and offshore. Once the oil meets the coastline, it is transported via ship through the state's pristine waters. The oil industry easily ranks as the state's greatest source of income, in 2007 providing almost 86 percent of Alaska's total tax revenue.

Coastal tourism accounts for much of the state's visitor industry, a burgeoning enterprise that rivals the seafood industry in both dollar value and number of people employed. In 2007, nearly 2 million people visited Alaska, injecting an estimated $3.8 billion into Alaska's economy. Tourism supported approximately 40,000 full-time equivalency jobs—about 14 percent of all employment in Alaska and over a billion dollars in wages and benefits.

While Alaska's coastal and marine resources are a key part of the U.S. economic foundation, these same resources are the lifeblood of Alaska's society. Nearly everyone in Alaska lives along the coast or major rivers that flow to the ocean. Perhaps more than any other state, livelihoods of a large portion of Alaska's population in some way center on or are affected by marine resources. Alaska's Native people and other rural residents incorporate subsistence harvest of fish, shellfish, and marine plants into their diets at levels up to 600 pounds per person per year. Subsistence in Alaska is a cultural tradition dating back thousands of years, and is a critical part of the economic well-being of rural communities.

And beyond direct economic yield, Alaska's seas and coasts in their unused state represent enormous assets. Alaska's natural resources provide "ecosystem services" including ecological processes, watershed benefits, habitat for animals and people, and the biodiversity that makes a healthy planet and sustains life.

The Challenges of Space and Society

Alaska's resources face unique challenges in use, management, and conservation. Within Alaska, travel is not trivial. The vast, rugged, and often difficult-to-access territory stretches human and monetary resources. These geographic conditions present logistical hurdles in trying to conduct management, scientific, educational, or commercial activities in Alaska.

For example, approximately 800 miles and a $600 round-trip airfare separates Sea Grant headquarters in Fairbanks, in Alaska's Interior, from Juneau, the capital city in Southeast Alaska. A trip from Fairbanks to the Marine Advisory office 1,200 miles away in Unalaska, in the Aleutian Islands, costs about $1,200 and can take seven hours, depending on flight connections. Most Alaska communities, including Juneau, Cordova, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Bethel, Dillingham, Sitka, Unalaska, and Kodiak, are accessible only by air or water.

Management of Alaska's commercial, subsistence, and sport fisheries is divided among state, federal, and Alaska Native jurisdictions, and international rules sometimes apply. State resource management laws that are dictated by the Alaska Constitution sometimes conflict with federal laws. Alaska Natives representing five distinct groups in the state make up 17 percent of the population and add a multicultural dimension to every decision debated.

Interest groups within Alaska vie for what they believe is their fair share of the state's natural resources or for complete preservation of resources. These often-contentious conditions present a ripe environment for the Alaska Sea Grant College Program, to exercise its strength as a respected and trusted entity that can bring together diverse interests to discuss and resolve issues with the aid of science-based information.

Service to the State

For more than three decades, Alaska Sea Grant and its extension arm, the Marine Advisory Program, have helped people understand, conserve, and wisely use Alaska's bountiful coastal and marine resources. We do this through a program of research, education, and extension activities across the state. Alaska Sea Grant's program has grown to include marine advisory offices in communities that provide strategic coverage of Alaska.

Alaska Sea Grant's efforts have yielded tangible results. For example, the Alaska Young Fishermen's Summit has brought the next generation of commercial fishermen face-to-face with leaders in the industry and regulatory bodies to train future leaders. Establishment of a new public community cold storage facility was led by the Petersburg marine advisor and has now operated in the black for two years.

Research and outreach by Alaska Sea Grant has helped coastal communities prepare for tsunamis, and information and training provided by the Marine Advisory Program has contributed to fewer fishing-related deaths.

Innovative research on salmon, funded by Alaska Sea Grant, has helped fisheries managers better understand long-term fluctuations in salmon populations and how interbreeding can affect salmon. Information shared by scientists and resource managers during our international scientific symposia has improved fishery management and led to greater understanding of high latitude marine ecosystems.

Alaska Sea Grant has contributed to a well-trained workforce through support of dozens of graduate students. A high proportion of students has gone on to work for resource management agencies, marine industries, conservation groups, and academic institutions in Alaska.

We've also improved public awareness and understanding of our seas and coasts and the complex issues around them. Alaska Sea Grant Education Services and the Marine Advisory Program collaborate to produce and distribute thousands of books, pamphlets, posters, and videos.

Alaska Sea Grant is one of several partners initiating the new NSF-funded Alaska Center for Ocean Science Education Excellence (COSEE Alaska). We are one of the state's best sources of teaching tools on Alaska's marine resources for homeschoolers and the public and private K–12 system. Sea Grant's educational materials also target "free-choice learners," people who on their own initiative seek out educational opportunities in places such as interpretive centers, museums, and aquariums.

Looking to the Future

While most coastal and Great Lakes states grapple with how to fix problems that stemmed from overuse of natural resources, we still have time in Alaska to prevent problems. As part of a national network of Sea Grant programs and a key asset of the University of Alaska Fairbanks—the nation's premier arctic university and Alaska's research university—Alaska Sea Grant is ideally situated to apply lessons learned in other states in an effort to not only fix, but also prevent, marine-related problems.

This strategic plan outlines our goals for 2009–2013, compiled in partnership with fellow Alaskans who share a keen interest in the vitality of our coastal and ocean resources. Our Advisory Committee has helped us create an overall vision for the program and a set of specific goals that meet Alaska's needs.

Alaska Sea Grant's Focus Areas

Healthy Coastal Ecosystems

Strategic Issues

Goal: Sustained, well-managed, and healthy marine, coastal, and watershed ecosystems in Alaska.

  1. Increase understanding of human-induced and natural impacts—particularly from climate change—on Alaska's marine and coastal ecosystems through research, education, and extension.
  2. Support healthy marine and coastal ecosystems in Alaska by providing 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.

Sustainable Coastal Development

Strategic Issues

Goal: Diverse and sustainable coastal communities, where residents have the knowledge and skills they need to adapt to natural and man-made changes in resource use and availability.

  1. Foster diverse and sustainable local economic activity in coastal communities through technical assistance and training.
  2. Build the capacity of residents in Alaska's coastal communities to identify and take advantage of economic opportunities by providing leadership, vocational, and professional development opportunities.

Safe and Sustainable Seafood Supply

Strategic Issues

Goal: Safe, sustainable, and sought-after seafood products providing stable economic returns to Alaska communities.

  1. Develop innovative seafood processing methods and expand the variety of Alaska seafood products through research support.
  2. Maintain seafood quality and safety through research, training, and outreach.
  3. Increase value of Alaska seafood to industry, communities, and consumers through information transfer and training that improves production efficiencies and marketing.
  4. Increase utilization and economic value of seafood waste byproducts through research and outreach on new technologies, products, and processing efficiencies.

Goal: Commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries will remain biologically and economically healthy, and remain a long-term economic force in coastal communities.

  1. Improve understanding of fisheries research by engaging individual fishermen and other stakeholders in relevant research planning, design, and implementation.
  2. Enhance understanding of sustainability of fish populations and fisheries in face of climate change through research and outreach activities.
  3. Support equitable and sustainable fisheries through research on how access-related management decisions may affect fisheries and communities.
  4. Strengthen the voice of local residents and industry stakeholders in the fisheries regulatory process through outreach activities.

Hazard Resilience in Coastal Communities

Strategic Issues

Goal: Healthy, safe Alaskans and resilient coastal communities in face of marine and coastal hazards.

  1. Improve public safety and community resiliency by providing information on coastal adaptation techniques that enhance communities' capabilities to plan for, mitigate, and respond to extreme events and adverse effects of climate change, including storm surges, tsunamis, sea ice changes, and erosion.
  2. Enhance the capability of coastal communities to plan for, prevent, and respond to hazardous substance spills, marine debris, and other marine pollution through education and outreach activities.
  3. Reduce drowning and injuries of boaters through training and educational materials on responding to weather and other hazards.

Marine Literacy and Stewardship

Strategic Issues

Goal: Alaska residents and visitors understand, appreciate, and safely and sustainably enjoy Alaska's marine and coastal environments.

  1. Foster wise stewardship, understanding, and enjoyment of Alaska's marine and coastal resources by sharing science-based and traditional knowledge of our marine and coastal resources with Alaska residents and visitors.
  2. Enhance stewardship, science literacy, and decision-making capabilities among Alaska's youth through formal and informal educational activities.

Strategic Planning Process

This 2009–2013 strategic plan stems from our 2004–2009 strategic plan, both created using a rigorous process facilitated by professional strategic planning consultants. During our National Sea Grant Program Assessment Team (PAT) review in 2006, the 2004-2009 plan received the highest grade possible.

Development of our current 2009–2013 strategic plan began in September 2007 when our state Advisory Committee's (AC) Strategic Planning Subcommittee met to identify emerging strategic issues and review the existing plan. Recommendations were sent to the full AC on revisions to the themes, strategic issues, goals, and objectives.

The subcommittee reviewed all 11 of the national themes, and reaffirmed the appropriateness of the existing five Alaska Sea Grant themes. The subcommittee identified global climate change as a new issue that should be included in the strategic plan. The subcommittee also suggested some revisions and reductions in the number of objectives.

At the November 7–8, 2007, annual meeting of the full AC, presentations were given on the emerging issue of global climate change, focusing on community resilience and adaptation to the changes. The AC then engaged in a World Café workshop process to develop recommendations for new objectives addressing that emerging issue. The AC further reviewed existing goals and objectives, along with the recommended new ones and the Strategic Planning Subcommittee's recommendations. The AC used a multi-voting process to determine a rank order for all objectives. Decision criteria were articulated to help guide the discussion and voting process. Our strategic planning consultant compiled the results into a matrix of objectives and votes received. The AC also reviewed the vision statement and made suggestions for revising the statement in response to suggestions from the PAT.

In 2007, the National Sea Grant Office (NSGO) published its draft revised Strategic Plan, and they completed it in 2008. The new plan centers on four "focus areas." The new focus areas were determined in cooperation with the Sea Grant network and others. To form a more perfect union, the NSGO asked each state Sea Grant program to realign their respective strategic plans with the NSGO strategic plan, which in turn aligns with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration strategic plan.

While the new NSGO strategic plan was being finalized in early 2008, we distributed a survey to constituents in Alaska to collect advice aimed at helping us update our strategic plan under our five new focus areas. Print and online versions of the survey were made available through the spring and summer of 2008 (Appendices 2 and 3; see PDF version for these appendices).

The AC's Strategic Planning Subcommittee met again on August 1, 2008. It determined that the four new national focus areas were well suited to Alaska and would be appropriate to serve as the foundation for a realigned Alaska Sea Grant strategic plan. The subcommittee further recommended that we add a fifth focus area, marine and aquatic science literacy, which was not among the NSGO focus areas. Committee members also reviewed the vision statement, the input from the PAT, and the suggestions from the 2007 AC meeting, and made recommendations for revising the vision statement.

Based primarily on input gathered via the constituent survey, from the AC, and from Marine Advisory faculty, in August 2008 the Alaska Sea Grant Management Team produced an updated draft of strategic goals and objectives, arranged under five new focus areas and aligned with the new NSGO strategic plan. A draft update of our vision statement also was produced, based in part on input solicited from the AC at its 2007 annual meeting, input from the 2006 PAT, input from the 2008 meeting of the AC's Strategic Planning Subcommittee, and advice from our planning consultant.

Soon after the AC annual meeting in November 2008, we submitted an "alignment memorandum" required by NSGO, which described our progress on aligning our strategic plan with the NSGO strategic plan, and our projected completion date.

In March 2009 Alaska Sea Grant, including Marine Advisory faculty, provided issues and strategies based on their communities, constituents, areas of expertise, and needs. In April 2009, we completed the update of our strategic plan and its alignment with the NSGO strategic plan.

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