Alaska Sea Grant Implementation Plan


Working for Alaska and the Nation

Alaska's renewable marine resources provide seafood to the world, create jobs and revenue for the state, and support subsistence lifestyles of thousands of rural residents. The state's more than 34,000 miles of coast (more than the rest of the United States combined) are an invaluable asset to the growing tourism and recreation industry.

Alaska Sea Grant helps bolster the long-term value of Alaska's marine resources by funding scientific research on marine ecosystems and the effects of human activity and natural environmental changes on ocean resources. The findings and other information are disseminated by a statewide network of Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program (MAP) agents, resource specialists, and communications specialists. Below are the primary areas of research and public outreach. For descriptions of specific activities in these areas, see our project directory.

Addressing Alaska Sea Grant Priority Regional Issues with 2002-2004 Funded Projects

Impacts on salmon

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 resources.

Commercial fishing and management impact freshwater conditions by influencing the number of salmon that spawn. Nutrients derived from carcasses of adult salmon may be important in driving freshwater productivity in sockeye nursery lakes, and less than optimum escapement could reduce primary productivity and ultimately their sustainable yield of sockeye smolts. In the Alaska Sea Grant Implementation Plan for the next two years, we have made a research investment in developing quantitative methods for setting escapement goals for sockeye salmon that consider these marine-nutrient benefits. In R/31-08: Understanding the Role of Marine-Derived Nutrients in Population Dynamics of Sockeye Salmon, Adkison and Finney propose to determine the influence of salmon carcasses on freshwater productivity in 50 Alaskan lakes using contemporary spawner-recruit data, nutrient budget analysis, and analysis of stable nitrogen isotopes in sockeye smolts. Using multivariate statistical techniques, they will determine controls on marine nutrient dependence and construct mathematical models representing the effect of salmon carcasses on future salmon production.

Wiser utilization of fisheries

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.

There has not been a comprehensive bioeconomic analysis of the commercial Pacific halibut fishery since the introduction of individual vessel quotas (IVQs) in Canada in 1991 and individual fishing quotas (IFQs) in Alaska in 1995. Pacific halibut are managed by an international agreement between the United States and Canada. Under the auspices of this agreement, the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) establishes constant exploitation-yield-based harvest limits in the eastern North Pacific, Gulf of Alaska, and eastern Bering Sea. The authority to allocate catches among competing commercial, sport, and subsistence interests is delegated to individual nations. Following passage of the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, the NPFMC was delegated responsibility for allocating halibut catches off Alaska. Criddle and Herrmann (R/32-02: An Economic Analysis of the Pacific Halibut Commercial Fishery) propose to develop an empirically based stochastic bioeconomic simulation-optimization model of the Pacific halibut fishery that should assist the NPFMC and IPHC in understanding the economic consequences of changes in Pacific halibut abundance, and changes in the allocation of halibut among commercial, sport, and subsistence user groups.

To assist small processors in developing value-added products, improving quality, and understanding markets for Alaska's undervalued and underutilized species, Crapo and Fong (A/152-02: Technical Assistance Program for Alaska Seafood Processors) propose to develop and distribute brochures describing the technical assistance program. The investigators will contact regulatory agencies and inform them of the program and, using MAP resources, they will respond to requests for assistance from Alaska's seafood processors.

To assist both the Alaska and U.S. seafood industry in developing seafood product mixes that are suitable for Hong Kong consumers, Fong and Crapo (A/152-04: Assortment Analysis of Hong Kong Seafood Products) will conduct assortment analysis and product quality determination in this potentially important new market for Alaska seafood products. Together with a concurrent project in China, this MAP project will assist Alaskan exporters in determining what marketing strategies to pursue in developing markets in Hong Kong and southern China.

To investigate the feasibility of developing alternate herring products and market channels primarily in Belgium, Germany, and France, Fong and Johnson in A/152-05: Herring Market Survey will conduct a mail survey to identify consumption patterns, price and quality preferences of end users of herring products. Diversifying full utilization of herring (a fishery that is currently a roe harvest) would help Alaska processors reduce waste and increase economic returns.

Marine environmental issues

Marine environmental issues have the potential for dramatically affecting Alaska's lifestyles and employment.

Recent Biological Opinions by NMFS related to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have found jeopardy and adverse habitat modification by Alaska's groundfish fisheries in reference to the western stock of Steller sea lions. In taking action to comply with the ESA, the NPFMC expressed concern over potentially large costs to the industry with so little data on whether such measures would help the sea lion population. In R/101-02: Generalized Models of Local Depletion for Walleye Pollock, with Reference to Steller Sea Lion Critical Habitat, Quinn addresses this critical lack of information by conducting a retrospective analysis of existing fishery data to see if local depletions of pollock in areas critical to Steller sea lions actually occur. This study will aid managers, scientists, and the industry in crafting science-based management measures to address the sea lion problem.

The question "Is it Food?" was raised by participants at the 1991 Sea Grant–sponsored workshop addressing marine mammal and seabird declines in the Bering Sea and northern Gulf of Alaska. A decade later, the emphasis has moved from quantity to quality of prey species. Having determined that metabolic changes occur seasonally in harbor seals, Castellini, in R/101-03: The Seasonal and Biochemical Nutritional Variance in Pollock as a Food for Marine Mammals proposes to take the next step by quantifying the nutritional variance in pollock over seasonal and developmental time frames relevant to known seasonal alterations in pinniped nutritional physiology.

In A/152-09: Sightings and Samples: A Community-based Research Effort, Wynne will involve a community of resource users in the collection of sightings data and samples needed to assess the distribution and diet of Steller sea lion predators and competitors in the Gulf of Alaska. Wynne will promote and facilitate reporting of whale sightings by pilots and mariners and collection of biological samples from commercial fishers. She has already established a reputation, rapport, and working relationship with many of Kodiak's marine resources users that will form the basis for this network of volunteers that will help fill data gaps and refine the "best available data" on Steller sea lion ecology.

The "Essential Fish Habitat" provision of the U.S. Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1996 aims to protect nursery and feeding habitat for commercial fishes. Despite knowledge that kelp habitats are important to fish fauna, little is known about the importance of Alaska kelp bed to fish communities. In R/31-09: Utilization of Alaskan Kelp Beds by Commercially Important Fish, Konar will examine fish/kelp interactions in Kachemak Bay, the newest designated National Estuarine Research Reserve, that is dominated by canopy-forming kelps.

Diversification of economy

There is a broadly held view that diversification of Alaska's economy is both wise and inevitable.

With increasing use of the coastal zone together with continued concerns over transporting crude oil over sensitive fish habitat, the delayed effects of catastrophic or chronic releases of petroleum products in the marine environment are unknown. In R/97-01: A Model System to Examine Delayed Effects of Crude Oil Exposure on Fish, Stekoll and collaborators at the NMFS Auke Bay Laboratory will examine the delayed effects of weathered oil exposure on zebrafish (Danio rerio), and will look for possible multigenerational effects. The delayed effects to be examined are those that arise long after exposures end as a result of exposure to organic contaminants during early development stages. Fish populations in Alaska experienced multigenerational impacts after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. However, increasing urbanization is likely to increase the potential for chronic exposure of populations, especially those of sensitive life stages rearing in urban estuaries. The only work describing the delayed effects of embryonic exposure to crude oil has involved pink salmon or herring and was conducted by the Auke Bay Laboratory scientists collaborating on this new Sea Grant project. While commercially important, these species are difficult to study because of their long generation times and difficulties of rearing them in the laboratory, hence, necessitating a rapid-maturing, easier-to-culture model species.

Although an estimated 50 million pounds of clams are available for harvest annually, Alaska's commercial bivalve industry is virtually nonexistent because of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). Not only is PSP a problem with major economic consequences (e.g., a harvest of 5 million pounds of clams annually would realize a wholesale value of over $5 million), but also in recent years PSP has resulted in one to two deaths per year in the state. Understanding PSP events is critically important to the state of Alaska and the nation. Under current Sea Grant funding (R/95-02: PSP: Characterization of Saxitoxin Synthetic Genes), working with the toxic cyanobacteria Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, Plumley has identified growth conditions (N2-N as nitrogen source) that promote high levels of saxitoxin accumulation as well as growth conditions (urea-N as nitrogen source) where saxitoxin cannot be detected. In his new project (R/95-03: Identification of the Cyanobacterial Saxitoxin Genes), using a metagenomics approach, Plumley continues his efforts to identify the genes involved in the synthesis of saxitoxins, the etiological agents of paralytic shellfish poisoning. By investing in these projects, Alaska Sea Grant has taken on a basic science project where benefits will not be realized in the immediate funding cycle. However, in the longer term, by increasing our understanding of PSP toxin production in natural systems, this project could have an enormous economic and health impact on the state and nation.

Interfacing the Sea Grant missions of research on PSP with those of outreach and education is the MAP project A/152-14: Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning Outreach, Monitoring, and Research Project. In this ongoing project, RaLonde will conduct a series of lectures on the PSP issue in five Alaska coastal communities, coordinate the West Coast Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB) work group, plan and conduct a conference on West Coast and Alaskan HAB issues, and assist with the introduction of the Mist Alert™ kit for PSP monitoring.

Although finfish aquaculture is prohibited in Alaska, shellfish aquaculture was revitalized in 1988 with passage of the Aquatic Farm Act, and 56 farms now culture shellfish on 219 acres of state- managed tidelands. Alaska's strict exotic species import regulations require farmers to culture only indigenous species, with the exception of the Pacific oyster which was grandfathered into the current aquaculture industry. To survive, the Alaskan shellfish farming industry needs to expand into high-valued shellfish species other than the Pacific oyster. Shellfish hatchery technology was developed in 1999 to produce seed from purple hinge rock scallop. In A/152-15: Purple Hinge Rock Scallop Aquaculture Development, RaLonde will develop grow-out procedures, site selection criteria, and economics information necessary to bring purple hinge rock scallop into full farm production.

Shellfish aquaculture in Alaska is on the brink of significant growth. Consumer demand for Alaskan farmed shellfish is exceptional, and farmers receive $6 to $10 per dozen for live Pacific oysters and $7.70 for littleneck clams. Research and development have addressed many of the problems constraining aquaculture development; however, long-range planning for aquaculture growth has received limited attention. To address the most cumbersome aquatic farming permit application process in the nation, in A/152-16: Shellfish Aquaculture Development for Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, RaLonde will develop an aquatic farm plan for Prince of Wales Island (POW). This aquaculture development plan will ease the aquatic farm application requirements, shorten the time for application review, increase the rate of permit approval, and accelerate the growth of the shellfish farming industry in Alaska. POW is the third largest island in the United States with over 400,000 hectares of tidelands. Once a major timber harvest area, the island has an extensive road system connecting shoreland areas to the ferry system that provides regular service to Ketchikan. The nearly 7,000 residents living in 11 communities have experienced severe economic hardship during the past decade with a 35% decline in personal income caused by timber harvest reductions, and aquaculture would provide new economic opportunities.

A growing marine ecotourism industry is dependent on continuing availability of marine wildlife to view. Operators are caught in conflict between passengers who want to get as close as possible to animals, and wildlife managers who want to minimize disturbance. In his MAP project, A/152-13: Development of Voluntary Guidelines for Marine Wildlife Viewing, Johnson will develop a set of responsible marine wildlife viewing standards or guidelines that would be acceptable to commercial tourism boat operators. These guidelines will cover approach and viewing of cetaceans, pinnipeds, and cliff-nesting seabirds. Products of the project will include a standards placard, a brochure for wide distribution, and possibly a short training course that could be offered to operators in ports around the state.