AI Noteworthy (formerly Hot Topics) 2020)

Noteworthy (formerly Hot Topics) (pdf)

This section replaces the previously-named Hot Topics. We include information here that is deemed of relevance to ecosystem considerations of fisheries managers, but does not fit our typical indicator format. Information included here is often new, a one-time event, qualitative, or some other type of non-standard ecosystem indicator.

COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic, also known as the coronavirus pandemic, is an ongoing global pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).to control the spread of the disease nationally and across the globe have included lockdowns and quarantines, which in many cases precluded the annual surveys conducted by agencies, universities, citizen scientists, communities, and other partners. As such, most of the data included in this report refers to 2019. Data for 2020 is included for the Integrated Physical Factors (satellite-derived data or model output), seabird die-offs, marine mammal strandings, fish stock sustainability, and groundfish discards.

COVID-19 Pandemic in Alaska

Alaska Governor Dunleavy declared a state of emergency on 11 March 2020 and the first confirmed case occurred on 12 March 2020. Restaurants, bars, breweries, and food trucks all closed beginning on 18 March 2020, which may have limited some amount of seafood sales in some communities, however, the large scale and global nature of Alaska fisheries means that restaurant closures throughout the lower 48 and globally are more likely to impact Alaska seafood sales. The Governor announced on 23 March 2020 that "All people arriving in Alaska, whether resident, worker or visitor, are required to self-quarantine for 14 days and monitor for illness. Arriving residents and workers in self-quarantine, should work from home, unless you support critical infrastructure (see Attachment A)." Fishing and processing businesses are included in Attachment A as 'essential businesses', which allowed many fishing operations to continue in 2020, albeit at a substantial cost to the harvesting and processing industries in Alaska to maintain a safe working environment for their employees and minimize spread to local community residents. More information on the actions of the State of Alaska in response to this crisis can be found on the State of Alaska webpage for COVID-19 Health Mandates

Industry has reported that they have spent over $50 million to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission among harvesters, processors, and the local communities while still providing important seafood for the U.S. and international markets as well as providing food security for many Alaskans. The seafood industry has been fairly successful in Alaska limiting virus spread, but they had to deal with a substantial reduction in transportation options in many Western Alaska and Aleutian Islands communities and limited ability to switch crews throughout the fishing seasons to date. The NMFS Alaska Regional Office has been instrumental in devising solutions with industry to allow the continuation of fishing operations and limit the need for fisheries closures which would otherwise lead to vessel downtime and higher crew turnover increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Given this unprecedented disruption to the industry in 2020, AFSC has developed a series of in-season ex-vessel revenue projections for 2020 to provide the NPFMC, industry, and the public with more near real-time economic information for the annual groundfish harvest specifications process for 2021. The new section can be found in the Groundfish Economic SAFE report, where one can find more details on data, methods, and species-specific 2020 (January-September) ex-vessel revenue projections in the BSAI and GOA.

Harmful Algal Blooms

Shellfish testing in the Aleutian Islands and Alaska Peninsula showed unprecedented levels of paralytic shellfish toxins in shellfish. In Unalaska, consumption of blue mussels and snails resulted in a community member fatality in July. The total toxin load of a sample of the blue mussels that were consumed was 11,200 g/100g (140 times the regulatory limit) and the snails consumed were 287 g/100g (˜3x above the regulatory limit). Amaknak Island in Unalaska Bay also had samples with toxicity slightly above the limit, blue mussels 2.8x and snails 1.4x. Weekly shellfish samples were taken in 17 locations throughout the Aleutian and Alaska Peninsula region and results are still being analyzed.

In addition to Unalaska, west of the Aleutians the Kamchatka Peninsula also had a major toxic event last September, where octopi, seals and other fauna, died due to the high toxicity level of a harmful algal bloom. The event also caused sickness and corneal burns in people surfing and/or swimming in the area. While no events have been recorded extensively in the islands, it is of note that HABs of high toxicity occurred at both ends of the archipelago.

Processing Plant closes in Adak

The fish processing plant on Adak was previously operated by Seattle-based Icicle Seafoods but closed in 2013. The city bought the processing equipment at auction to keep it on the island. However the plant was closed again in 2020. The potential for reopening the plant will depend on the current development of a BSAI Pacific cod trawl CV cooperative style Limited Access Privilege Program. The closure may set back the stability needed in the central and western Aleutians to maintain services, a stable population, and attract long term residents.