A regional approach to effective and long-range planning
The diversity and richness of marine resources in Alaska are greater than those in any other Sea Grant program. Alaska has 54% of the U.S. general coastline and 74% of its continental shelf area. The remote location of the Arctic Ocean, Chukchi Sea, Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, and the inside waters of southeast Alaska, and the relatively recent domestic exploitation of their economic value, have left these waters unexplored and not well understood compared to other U.S. marine and coastal waters. This substantial lack of understanding of the marine environments in the Alaska region leaves the scientific community and state and federal marine resource managers ill-prepared to ensure their sustained ecosystem health.
Protecting the future productivity of these marine resources is important. Alaska's continental shelf supports the richest diversity of marine mammals in the Northern Hemisphere and yields over 48% of the total U.S. fishery volume. Other important economic activities also share in the use of this ocean environment. Although the mineral wealth of the region is still undetermined, 18% of the nation's domestic oil now comes from the Alaska coastal zone. In addition to their economic importance, the marine and coastal waters are important to the subsistence lifestyle of coastal Alaska's indigenous people.
The waters off Alaska are as important from a state perspective as from a national one. Nine of Alaska's ten largest communities are located on the coast, and 24 of the state's 27 population census regions border marine waters. In 2000, 85% of Alaska's population was residing in coastal boroughs and county equivalents. Commercial fishing and processing are Alaska's largest private employers. Dutch Harbor is the top domestic cargo port in the U.S. in terms of both quantity and value. Tourism has grown to become the second-largest private industry employer in Alaska, with major impacts upon coastal communities. During the 2000 tourist season, cruise ships brought roughly 900,000 passengers and crew members to Juneau, where only 30,711 people reside in the city and borough.
The coastal waters of Alaska are generally pristine. Water quality standards based on coastal regions outside Alaska may be inadequate to protect Alaska's living resources, which include the largest population of marine mammals and seabirds in the Northern Hemisphere, the nation's largest fisheries in terms of both volume and dollar value, and the nation's largest single-species fishery (pollock).
The Alaska Sea Grant College Program addresses priority coastal and marine issues through research, education, and information transfer. Through partnership approaches with public and private sectors, this university-based program meets the changing environmental and economic needs of people dependent on coastal and marine resources. Alaska Sea Grant's strategic plan identifies issues of importance to Alaska and the nation. It states the approaches that will be taken by the program to address those issues.
The size and complexity of the concerns surrounding the careful development and conservation of Alaska's coastal and marine resources exceed the monetary assets of Alaska Sea Grant Program and the human capabilities of the higher education system in Alaska. Rather than addressing only small discrete problems, Alaska Sea Grant encourages faculty to share logistics and expertise with government, industry, and other concerned constituent groups so that Sea Grant's investment benefits a larger context of regional concerns.
After considering the goals and plans of the National Sea Grant Office, the Alaska Regional Marine Research Program, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and after consulting widely with management agencies, coastal industries, and other constituencies, the Alaska Sea Grant Program has identified five goals or vision statements for the next decade. In an effort toward achieving these goals, we provide a series of elements that we anticipate will evolve as we seek creative and innovative science, education, and outreach programs in support of priority coastal and marine issues.
- Assist in developing a policy consensus on marine environmental issues
that have potential for dramatically affecting Alaska's lifestyles,
communities, and employment.
- Provide an interdisciplinary forum for enhancing and maintaining broad discussion among the marine scientific community on issues related to the region's marine water quality, resources, and ecosystem.
- Work cooperatively with the fishing industry, resource managers, Alaska Natives, coastal communities, and other marine resource users to expand understanding of interactions within the marine ecosystem.
- Nurture and expand science communication among resource managers and scientists through Lowell Wakefield Symposia and other scientific meetings and workshops.
- Distinguish between natural and human-induced changes in Alaska's
marine and coastal ecosystems.
- For sound management of Alaska fisheries and other coastal resources, increase our understanding of changes occurring at different time and spatial scales in the ocean environment.
- Determine whether marine ecosystems have been disrupted by increases in contaminants, biotoxins, and nonindigenous species.
- Encourage multidisciplinary approaches toward meeting the challenges
of fishery management and enhancing economic growth through wiser utilization
of stocks within sustainable harvest levels.
- Respond to current needs of fishery or resource managers.
- Work with resource managers and the fishing industry to seek new selective management strategies to improve the quality of the harvested product.
- Work with the fishing industry to test and encourage harvesting techniques that reduce bycatch and discards.
- Increase value of the seafood industry by enhancing quality and encouraging
development of new products and markets.
- Develop new seafood and seafood-based products.
- To become more competitive in the world market, in partnership with Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and the seafood industry, encourage innovative research and information transfer in areas of improving product quality, availability, and value-added utilization.
- Increase public understanding of marine resources and the ecosystems
that support them.
- Because Alaska's economy depends heavily upon natural resource utilization, increase public knowledge of the marine and coastal environments that support and affect tourism, fisheries, subsistence use, oil production, and other enterprises.
- Educate specialists to wisely manage the abundant natural resources in Alaska through graduate student support, development and distribution of scientific publications, and symposia.
- At the K–12 level, in partnership with frontline educators and programs such as Alaska Natural Resource and Outdoor Educators, stimulate innovative educational techniques and curricula.
- Respond to current resource issues of importance by gathering, packaging, distilling, and distributing information through books, press releases, videos, the World Wide Web, and lectures in a timely fashion.
The National Sea Grant Program prefers the development of strong programmatic themes in its Sea Grant College Programs involving research, education, and outreach services. To assist in identifying and developing themes, a set of emerging priorities has been identified. Consistent with quality academic-based programs, Alaska Sea Grant continues to seek the highest quality research and education efforts. Of particular interest are projects that respond to the following regional issues:
- The profitability of the salmon industry, one of the nation's most
important fisheries, will be severely challenged over the next several
years with resultant impact on the industry, its managers, and public
Record high numbers of salmon landed in Alaska plus increased production of farmed salmon in other countries will continue strong price competition in the world market. In Alaska, these economic pressures will challenge allocation decisions within the state and with other states and Canada, stress fishing communities, inflame discourse over salmon hatcheries, and affect U.S. trade in the Pacific Rim. In addition, because of cyclic regime shifts in the ocean environment, Alaska salmon production will likely decrease over the next decade.
Salmon production has become a world industry. Neither Alaska nor the United States as a whole is any longer the dominant supplier to the world market. Many feel that a very different infrastructure will arise to renew and strengthen Alaska's role in the salmon industry. Alaska Sea Grant will fund innovative research and technical transfer in the areas of new product development, processing plant innovations, and quality enhancement.
- Because most fisheries have reached sustainable harvest levels,
economic growth now depends on developing new markets for underutilized
species and wiser utilization of currently harvested stocks.
At best, wise management based on adequate understanding of human and natural impacts on fish stocks will enable the industry to maintain current harvest levels. Presently, half of the U.S. seafood production is harvested from Alaskan waters, but this harvest receives only basic processing. Improvements in processing, new selective management strategies, and harvesting techniques that reduce bycatch and discards would expand utilization of stocks at current harvest levels.
The challenges of fishery management in the region have increased in recent years by the need to address other than directed fishery issues. Interest in ecosystem management, bycatch reduction, and marine mammal protection raises aspirations, if not expectations, that exceed current scientific knowledge. Sea Grant–funded research will address not only the systems approaches needed to understand the interrelationship of marine physical and biological systems and species interdependencies, but also the development of focused information that will enable managers and industry to harvest selectively without adversely impacting the ecosystem.
In addition to more finely tuned management practices, limited fishery resources can bring more value to the industry and U.S. economy through an expansion of fish products and markets. Sea Grant will seek to fund, in partnership with industry and cooperatively with seafood laboratories, the development of knowledge leading to new seafood and seafood-based products, the maintenance of quality competitive in the world market, and new marketing approaches.
- Marine environmental issues have the potential for dramatically
affecting Alaska's lifestyles and employment.
Substantial and unexplained declines of pinnipeds, especially sea lions and harbor seals, have raised concerns by scientists, conservation groups, and fishing industry members. Although the reasons for regional pinniped declines are not understood, protection strategies for the Steller sea lion and harbor seal have implications for both the fishing and tourism industries, two of the largest private industry employers in Alaska. Expanding numbers of large cetaceans in Alaska also have the potential to enlarge the discussion of marine mammal issues vis-a-vis other marine resource uses.
Examination of the reasons for pinniped declines in regions of Alaska seems to indicate that changes in the ecosystem are important, if not the dominant factors in the declines. Since our ability to distinguish factors caused by natural change from those of human-related activity on a global or regional scale is limited, pollution or fishing activity cannot be eliminated as possible causes. Alaska Sea Grant seeks innovative modeling, retrospective techniques, or proxy determinations that may address the causes of these unexplained ecosystem-wide changes.
- There is a broadly held view that diversification of Alaska's economy
is both wise and inevitable.
Alaska Sea Grant anticipates an increase in conflicts between current uses and proposed new uses of biotic and abiotic resources of the marine ecosystem that will tax both adjacent communities and resource managers. Inadequate information exists relative to both the biological and social implications of anticipated changes in marine resource utilization and impacts of offshore and coastal developments on both the Alaskan and Asian borders of our highly productive marine habitat. Unless the costs and benefits of proposed changes can be reasonably weighed, sound policy decisions will not be possible.