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Pink Arctic: patterns, processes, and consequences of increasing Pacific Salmon in the high north


Peter WestleyCollege of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Andrew SeitzFisheries Division
College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences
Donna HauserUniversity of Alaska Fairbanks
Todd SformoNorth Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management
Leandra de SousaNorth Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management
Karen DunmallDFO Canada



The aim of this project is to harness the best available western and Indigenous knowledge to better understand what the increasing occurrence of Pacific salmon in the Arctic may mean from the perspective of the salmon, the native fishes, and the people of the region. We will meet this goal with a co-production approach, working authentically with Arctic residents to shape the direction and focus of the PhD student dissertation and burgeoning research program as a whole. We will also carry out pilot field work to confirm a set of candidate locations that are suitable for addressing community concerns regarding Arctic salmon.


The issue

The Alaska Arctic is the fastest warming region on Earth. Rapid warming is altering ecosystems and relationships between People and Place that have existed for millennia. One of the clearest harbingers of Arctic change is the increasing occurrence of more southerly species, raising concerns about competition with native species and how they might alter ecosystem functioning. Although Pacific salmon are increasingly encountered in marine waters, it is unclear whether salmon are likely to establish self-sustaining populations. In terrestrial deserts, life is constrained by the presence of water; for aquatic species in the Arctic, life is constrained by the availability of liquid water, especially during winter when many freshwater habitats freeze solid. Have salmon now found oases of suitable freshwater conditions in the Arctic? We seek support to take a substantial step towards understanding what salmon in the Arctic might mean from the point of view of the salmon, the ecosystem they are invading, and the People who rely on healthy coastal ecosystems for their well-being and livelihoods.

To date, study of salmon in the Alaska Arctic has been limited to marine habitats, focused on human dimensions, and greatly limited by on the ground data. We seek to narrow the knowledge gap by melding authentic engagement with Arctic communities to understand the most pressing and timely questions regarding salmon with in situ field work at identified sites where colonization may be possible.

Why is this an Alaska Sea Grant project?

The project aligns with the Alaska Sea Grant strategic plan focus areas of Healthy Coastal Communities, Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture, and Resilient Communities and Economies. Most directly, this proposal meets with strategic objective 1 to increase the shared body of knowledge about marine, coastal, and watershed ecosystems in Alaska, emphasizing the concerns and interests of stakeholders. In addition, the project addresses Alaska Sea Grant objectives 2 that seeks to support and enhance planning, management, and mitigation needed to ensure healthy ecosystems and coastal communities; objective 5: to promote and support the sustainability of fisheries and other marine resource harvests; objective 7: to increase the resilience of Alaska coastal communities through diversification, growth, and strengthening of coastal/marine economic sectors and social well-being, identity, and values; and objective 8: Increase the capacity of Alaska’s coastal communities and residents to prepare for, and adapt and respond to, coastal hazards, natural and human-caused disaster events, and environmental change.