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Resource Ecology & Ecosystem Modeling Program

Alaska Marine Ecosystem Considerations: 2012 Report Completed and Posted Online

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Oct-Nov-Dec 2012
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The Ecosystem Considerations report is produced annually for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council as part of the Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) report. The goal of the Ecosystem Considerations report is to provide the Council and other readers with an overview of marine ecosystems in Alaska through ecosystem assessments and by tracking time series of ecosystem indicators. The ecosystems under consideration include the eastern Bering Sea, the Aleutian Islands, and the Gulf of Alaska. New this year, the report includes a preliminary Arctic ecosystem assessment.

The intent of adding the Alaskan Arctic to the Ecosystem Considerations report was to provide an overview of general ecosystem information that may form the basis for more comprehensive future Arctic assessments that would be useful for fishery managers making decisions on the authorization of new fisheries. Consistent with ecosystem assessments of the eastern Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, and Aleutian Islands, we intend for the future Arctic assessments to include a list of indicators that directly address ecosystem-level processes and attributes that can inform fishery management advice by communicating indicator history, current status, and possible future directions.

The report includes additional new and updated sections, including the 2012 eastern Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands report cards and ecosystem assessments. This year, the hot topics section includes topics from each ecosystem. For the Arctic, these include a description of the record sea ice minimum that was reached in mid-September and a review of the apparent waning of the Unusual Mortality Event for ice seals and walrus noted in 2011. The hot topic for the eastern Bering Sea was the fisheries failure that was declared for the commercial king salmon fisheries. The two leading hypotheses for the reduced runs are climate change and fishing. The hot topic for the Aleutian Islands focused on the recent spatial analysis of Blackspotted/Rougheye Rockfish which indicates that local exploitation rates may be higher than previously thought. The hot topic for the Gulf of Alaska includes a report on the apparent poor foraging conditions for upper trophic predators in 2011 that may indicate that this particular year-class of fishes may be poor. The section in the report that describes ecosystem and management indicators includes updates to 44 individual contributions and presents 5 new contributions. These include contributions on trends in surface carbon uptake by phytoplankton and forage fish catch rates during late summer to early fall in the eastern Bering Sea; Gulf of Alaska ichthyoplankton abundance indices and regional distribution of juvenile salmon and age-0 marine fish; and an analysis of spatial variability of catches in Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska crab fisheries.

Additional regional 2012 ecosystem highlights include the extensive sea ice and cold pool in the eastern Bering Sea and record cold water temperatures during the summer in the Aleutian Islands, which may have influenced the observed decreases in pelagic foragers and apex fish predator biomass estimates relative to the last survey in 2010. NMFS surveys are conducted in the Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska in alternate years, so no surveys were available in 2012.

The final draft was presented to the Council’s Groundfish Plan Teams in November, and the final report was presented to the Science and Statistical Committee and Council Advisory Board in December when the 2013 groundfish quotas were set. The report is now available online at the AFSC's Ecosystem Considerations website.


By Stephani Zador  

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