The effect of annual climate variation has been observed to impact fisheries in Alaska; however the impact of climate change on fisheries is unclear. For example, the ecological effects of reduced sea ice have impacted a major fishery in the southeastern Bering Sea for walleye pollock, but this fishery recovered in subsequent years when sea ice again was more widespread. These climate impacts, while temporary, allowed us to understand some of the future impacts of climate change.
NOAA Fisheries released a draft Regional Action Plan for Southeastern Bering Sea Climate Science to help address key climate-related information needs in this Region as called for in the NOAA Fisheries Climate Science Strategy. We invited members of the public to provide feedback on this draft plan.
The draft Regional Action Plan identified key information needs and actions that NOAA Fisheries and partners took in this Region over 3-5 years to implement the NOAA Fisheries Climate Science Strategy, released in August of 2015. The draft Regional Action Plan also included a plan to assess the vulnerability of 18 commercially important fish species to climate change. The Regional Action Plan included a science action plan detailing ongoing steps to monitor climate change impacts on these species and to study ecological processes to understand these impacts.
The climate vulnerability assessment we conducted as part of this Regional Action Plan enabled us to provide data and information to help fishery managers make informed decisions to ensure the sustainability of commercially important U.S. fish stocks.
Another key aspect of this work was the a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary modeling approach to project abundance estimates for key fish stocks in the Bering Sea under various climate conditions during a 3 year project.
The modeling approach depends on understanding provided by past and current research on recruitment processes and fisheries oceanography by NOAA Fisheries. For example, our climate science approach has provided understanding of why southeastern Bering Sea pollock biomass dropped and then recovered. We found that due to bloom timing, large crustacean zooplankton benefit from icy winters, providing prey for age-0 pollock to enter their first winter fat, thus increasing overwinter survival and subsequent recruitment to the fishery.
We conducted the vulnerability assessment over the several months and finalized the Regional Action Plan in October of 2016.