The Alaska Climate Integrated Modeling Project

The Alaska Climate Integrated Modeling project (ACLIM) represents a comprehensive effort by NOAA Fisheries and partners to describe and project responses of the Bering Sea ecosystem – both the physical environment and human communities -- to varying climate conditions.

View Powerpoint here.

View ACIM information on NOAA website here.

Read letter from ALFA to NOAA Administrator - Request for Information on NOAA Actions to Advance the Goals and Recommendations in the Report on Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful

Ocean Warming

“We are seeing dramatic changes, particularly in cooler ocean regions like New England and Alaska where warming waters over the past 20 years are pushing fish farther north or deeper to stay in cooler waters.” NOAA Fisheries.

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We know our fish and their habitats are sensitive to ocean warming, but what's causing it? The Earth naturally absorbs and releases heat from the sun. A lot of that heat escapes into space, but not all of it. Increased greenhouse gases have created an extra barrier, making it harder for that heat to leave. The ocean has absorbed and held some of that heat in recent years. In the ocean, a small temperature change can make a big difference. More Information: NOAA Climate.gov

Why are fishermen concerned?

Fishery Impacts of Ocean Warming

Commercial fish and shellfish condition, survival, population biomass and catch have been negatively impacted by extreme events such as the 2014-2016 and 2018-2019 Marine Heat Waves in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea and record low ice cover in the Bering Sea. Alaska fishermen and coastal communities that depend on vulnerable commercial fish species such Pacific cod, salmon and crab have experienced significant and ongoing economic losses.[i] Negatively impacted species support high revenue fisheries and a large proportion of Alaska fishermen earnings – and U.S. fishery harvest value.

Read full text by Paul Olsen here.

Ocean Acidification

Ocean acidification is a change in ocean pH — or “acidity.” When seawater absorbs carbon dioxide, it triggers a chemical reaction that breaks down important minerals, like calcium carbonate. Those minerals are essential ingredients for shell-building marine life, including some that are vital to the base of the food chain — like pteropods — and some that are key fishery species — like crab. When carbon dioxide increases, those calcium building blocks are depleted, and these organisms struggle to build skeletons and shells, reproduce and survive. While this is a natural process, the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean each year has increased substantially, causing an unprecedented rate of change.
More Information: NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Carbon Program

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Ocean acidification is expected to progress faster and more severely in Alaska than lower latitudes. Waters in Alaska are both ‘cold and old’: cooler water temperatures and global circulation patterns mean that Alaska waters naturally hold more CO2 year-round. Because Alaska runs at a higher pH than many other waters — also impacted by natural upwellings, as well as carbon run-off from streams and glaciers — it sits closer to a tipping point when levels start to shift.
More Information: Alaska Ocean Acidification Network

  • The Sitka Tribe of Alaska is supporting citizen water sampling efforts to help establish baseline data on ocean acidification. Building an understanding of local conditions, in particular nearshore conditions, is crucial to understanding and addressing impacts on a local level — such as potential impacts to shellfish and other species communities rely upon.
    More Information: Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research

  • Potential impacts on salmon and the salmon food web are a top priority. Initial studies show finfish behavior may be impacted by acidification, and certain salmon prey species have difficulty thriving in higher acidity. 
    New Research: Informing Adaptation Decisions for Alaska’s Salmon Fisheries

  • Regional monitoring tools include ocean moorings, underwater gliders, ship-based studies, and data taken on the ferry Columbia, which runs from Bellingham to Skagway.

What’s at Stake Today

Scientific reports increasingly highlight the urgency of climate solutions. Recent studies warn that global-to-local ocean and ice ecosystems are facing down extreme and irreversible damages. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is calling for sweeping global changes that could alter this course, including immediate and long-term reductions to carbon emissions. The IPCC reports that delaying action could severely increase the costs and risks of climate impacts, and makes the case for a rapid reduction in carbon emissions to prevent the worst effects to ocean ecosystems, resources, and communities. 
IPCC Full Report: Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate 2019
Report Summary

Recent reporting in Alaska shows that fisheries management agencies are tracking major climate-driven impacts to fisheries — now and in the near future. Current ecosystem-based fishery management used in the Bering Sea today will help the fisheries withstand warming in the short-term. But by mid-century, or possibly sooner, Bering Sea fisheries may reach a tipping point or rapid decline if climate change continues on its current trajectory. Recent news coverage describes these trends:

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What To Do

Addressing climate change needs an all hands on deck approach, and fishermen are vital partners in any vision for a climate and food-stable future. Our jobs, our families and America’s food security depends upon it. Here are some key priorities to support in any discussion around climate change or resource management:

  • Research. Baseline monitoring and ongoing investigation into climate change impacts is crucial to our ability to understand the threats and design solutions that work.

  • Investigate Multi-stressors. Ocean warming and acidification trigger a ripple of impacts through our food webs and communities. We need to understand these complex chain reactions.

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  • Account for climate shifts in all fisheries and natural resource management decisions. We need to respond proactively to increased risk and uncertainty. Climate considerations should always be on the table.

Leaders are considering a wide scope of policy options. There won’t be just one solution — we need varied strategies that address the needs of many different stakeholders. Here are some of the options being discussed:

Global

  • Carbon Emissions Reductions. Many believe that to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we need to reach “net zero” emissions by 2050. Net zero means that no more carbon is dumped into the atmosphere than is taken out. This can be accomplished through emissions reduction, development of technology to remove carbon that is already in the atmosphere, and efforts to conserve wild habitats that offer carbon “savings,” such as the Sea Alaska Carbon Credits Program.

  • Carbon Taxes. Most economists agree that market forces are needed to expedite a transition to clean energy. This means putting a price on carbon emissions. Climate change impacts are already and will be costly to address. A policy that puts a price on carbon emissions up front, means those costs are represented in what we pay for energy, rather than in crisis management costs later. Program designs include incentivizing clean energy over fossil fuels while preventing disproportionate burdens on lower income households and vulnerable communities. That includes exposed economic sectors like fisheries that need time to adapt fishing operations, increase fuel efficiency, and address implications for seafood markets.

  • Renewable Energy. Energy efforts well underway seek to transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy infrastructure — such as advancing electric engines and energy efficiency technology.

 National

A variety of Congressional and Executive climate actions are either already in development, or expected to come forward in the coming years. Some of what we’re watching:

Alaska

Alaska Carbon Credits In the News:

 Southeast Focus: Tongass. The Tongass is the world’s largest remaining expanse of intact coastal temperate rainforest. This means it is a globally significant carbon sink. The old growth forest takes up large volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and holds that carbon in trees and soil. If the living forest is logged, the capacity of the Tongass to sequester carbon is reduced. Sealaska Corporation seized on the opportunity to bring monetary value of this natural capital by turning half of their forest lands into carbon credits, offsetting emissions generated by industry outside of Alaska. More recently, existing Tongass protections have been rolled back, risking this forest’s future.

Southeast Alaska Report: Fishing Vessel Energy Efficiency Project

ALFA recently signed a resolution opposing an oil and gas lease sale in Lower Cook Inlet and supporting renewable energy development. Click here to read the resolution

Read letter from American Sustainable Business Council and ALFA to Biden-Harris Administration on climate change policy

Op-Ed in The Hill — Setting Biden's seafood policy table 

Op-Ed in Nature - Ocean protection needs a spirit of compromise

Read article in Nature - Protecting the global ocean for biodiversity, food and climate

Read letter from ALFA to NOAA Administrator - Request for Information on NOAA Actions to Advance the Goals and Recommendations in the Report on Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful