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From climate to communities in the Gulf of Alaska: Using an integrated modeling approach to evaluate drivers of present and future system-level productivity and assess climate impacts on fishing-dependent communities

ABSTRACT:  The Gulf of Alaska (GOA) ecosystem supports valuable and diverse marine fisheries, annually  producing $1.3-2.1 billion dollars first wholesale value as well as supporting valuable recreational  and subsistence fisheries. While in aggregate Bering Sea fisheries are larger than those in the GOA  (27% larger in value in 2017), the majority of Alaska’s population resides in the GOA region,  many living in isolated fishing-dependent communities. The ecosystem exhibits strong  fluctuations in productivity, driven by climate events such as the 1977 regime shift, and the 2013-  2016 marine heatwave. Although the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) has  been responsive to past fluctuations, for instance recommending an 80% cut in the Pacific cod  quota due to a decline in biomass linked to the marine heat wave, future climate change in the  North Pacific is forecast to be greater than has been experienced historically. This research begins  to address the critical need to anticipate those changes, evaluate their impact on the ecosystem and  its inhabitants, and to prepare appropriate management responses. The timing of this research is  critical and of heightened importance because the NPFMC is considering management changes in  the GOA, such as implementing new catch share programs, and this research would help to ensure  new management measures are resilient to the impacts of climate change. 

This project develops an integrated research program that 1) leverages ongoing research at the  Alaska Fisheries Science Center, 2) is closely aligned with the successful eastern Bering Sea  ALCIM project, and 3) represents a substantial step towards meeting the objectives of GOA  Climate Science Regional Action Plan (Dorn et al. 2018) and the NMFS climate science strategy  (Link et al. 2015). The overarching research questions of this integrated program concern the drivers of system-level productivity under climate change, the ways that fisheries management can  promote resilient fisheries in a changing climate, and development of a coupled modeling approach that extends from climate to communities to evaluate economic and social impacts of climate  change on resource-dependent communities in the GOA. The integrated program includes  oceanographic modeling driven by climate projections of earth system models (ESM), an ensemble  of biological models including single species, multi-species, and ecosystem models, including the Atlantis end-to-end ecosystem model. A marine mammal component will use the 2013-2016  marine heatwave as a natural experiment to evaluate and predict the impacts of major  environmental anomalies on an endangered population of Steller sea lions. A major focus of this  research will be to evaluate the impacts of a changing climate on resource-dependent communities  in the Gulf of Alaska. Funding is requested to conduct surveys and construct predictive models of  decision-making by individual fishermen as they respond to changing management structures and  fishing opportunities in the GOA. We will build a fleet dynamics model for different fleets in the GOA which will give us the capacity to link the models in the multi-model ensemble, including  the Atlantis model, to computable general equilibrium (CGE) regional economic models that  separately model the economies of six fishing communities in Southwest Alaska within a larger  economic model of Alaska.

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