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Economics & Social Sciences Research Program

Bering Sea and Aleutian Island Communities: Demography in a Changing Ecosystem

Fishery managers sometimes find social impact analysis difficult to incorporate into their decision-making processes in part because it does not come in the quantitative and predictive formats they are accustomed to receiving for stock assessments and economic impacts. This project seeks to improve the reception of social information by taking many of the usual concerns of social scientists—population, race and ethnicity, gender, community size and viability (resilience)—and presenting them in predictive models that assess the demographic impacts of fisheries on communities. Where possible, these predictions will indicate a quantitative range of the likely impacts of ecosystem changes such as fisheries harvest levels, climate change, and protected resources regulations. In other cases it will only be possible to characterize the direction and intensity of likely impacts.

Regardless, this project will allow us to inform fishery managers of the way in which ecosystem changes may affect the overall human population levels in the large marine ecosystem and the distribution of those populations in terms of factors such as large and small communities, Alaska Native populations, immigrants, gender, and age.

This is a three phase project. Phase 1 (completed in 2006) compiled and analyzed existing population information for communities in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Island (BSAI) large marine ecosystem, resulting in two papers published in the 2006 SAFE report and a paper presented at Population Association of America Conference in March 2007. Conclusions from Phase 1 include:

  • The region shows overall population growth since early 1900s.
  • The region shows overall growth recently (1990- 2005).
  • Military and fisheries are major drivers of population changes.
  • Growth is not distributed evenly, nor do all 94 communities in the region show growth.
  • Recent negative growth communities may possibly be characterized as salmon-dependent or military-dependent (subjected to falling prices and base closures).
  • Recent positive growth communities may possibly be characterized as hub communities, subsistence communities, and nonsalmon-dependent fishing communities.

We are currently undertaking Phase 2, which will compile and analyze population structure information including age, gender, and ethnicity/race, and examine mechanisms of change tied to ecosystem factors such as fish landings and prices. Some recent ethnographic work in Bristol Bay indicates connections between fisheries and social factors, e.g., inmigration for labor, outmigration for educational opportunities, and Alaska Native birth rates in small villages (connected to educational opportunities for women, or lack thereof).

Phase 2 will include a typology of BSAI communities that reflects recent demographic trends, comparative analysis of demographic trends and fisheries trends over the period 1990-2007, and a regression analysis of demographic, fishery, and ecosystem indicators in order to understand the factors that most effect population growth and decline at the community level. In a third phase that is as yet unfunded, we will construct models that can be coupled with bioeconomic model outputs to predict community-level demographic changes in response to fishery management decisions.

By Jennifer Sepez

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