Friday, August 1, 2014

Study: Fisheries Face Ocean Acidification Risk

By Mark Edward Nero

Ocean acidification is driving changes in waters vital to Alaska’s valuable commercial fisheries and subsistence way of life, according to new research that was led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and published in Progress in Oceanography.

Many of Alaska’s marine fisheries are located in waters that are already experiencing ocean acidification, and will see more in the near future, the study shows. Communities in southeast and southwest Alaska face the highest risk from ocean acidification because they rely heavily on fisheries that are expected to be most affected by ocean acidification, and have underlying factors that make those communities more vulnerable, like lower incomes and fewer employment opportunities.

Ocean acidification describes the process of ocean water becoming more acidic as a result of absorbing a third of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The study says this change in ocean chemistry is affecting marine life, particularly the ability of shellfish, corals and small creatures in the early stages of the food chain to build skeletons or shells.

Studies show that red king crab and tanner crab, two important Alaskan fisheries, grow more slowly and don’t survive as well in more acidic waters. Alaska’s coastal waters are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification because of cold water that can absorb more carbon dioxide, and unique ocean circulation patterns, which bring naturally acidic deep ocean waters to the surface.

The new study is the first published research by the Synthesis of Arctic Research program, which is supported by an inter-agency agreement between NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Alaska Region.

“We went beyond the traditional approach of looking at dollars lost or species impacted; we know these fisheries are lifelines for native communities and what we’ve learned will help them adapt to a changing ocean environment,” said the co-lead author of the study, Jeremy Mathis, Ph.D., an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, who’s also the director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences Ocean Acidification Research Center.

The study recommends that residents and stakeholders in vulnerable regions prepare for this environmental challenge and develop response strategies that incorporate community values and needs.

In Alaska, the fishing industry supports over 100,000 jobs and generates more than $5 billion in annual revenue. Fishery-related tourism also brings in an estimated $300 million annually.
Go to for the full report.