Fishermen and scientists discuss ocean acidification in Sitka

Sitka is ranked the 14th fishing port in the US by weight, and lands 87 million pounds of seafood worth $59 million (source: UFA; photo: NOAA)

In an effort to connect the latest research on ocean acidification with Alaskans who could potentially be most affected, Alaska Ocean Acidification Network partners held a question and answer session with fishermen in Sitka in January. The roundtable discussion was hosted by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and supported by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. Thirty Sitka residents showed up to learn more about ocean acidification (OA), what’s happening in Alaska, and how it might impact fishermen.

Questions over the course of the evening ranged from monitoring efforts to food web dynamics to potential effects on commercially important species. A diverse team of scientists joined by phone to provide the best available information to address local concerns. Almost the entire group of Sitka participants stayed for an additional half hour after the session was over to discuss what they’d heard, talk about some of the regional monitoring efforts, and share ideas.

“It was so refreshing to hear how much the scientists cared how this issue impacts us, our communities and our fisheries up here,” said one Sitka resident. “They really seemed to want to engage with us.”

Because the waters of the North Pacific are so large, and because the need for data is so great, stakeholder participation and coordination between stakeholders and management bodies is essential. The Sitka discussion highlighted fisherman and community interest in participating in this process, with a focus on opportunities to meaningfully contribute to information collection, such as through monitoring or observation. It also highlighted interest from the scientists in pursuing research that helps fishing communities and their stakeholders make decisions for their futures. A continuing dialogue between the research field and these communities is an important piece of sustaining the livelihoods and diverse species dependent on a thriving marine ecosystem.

“It’s encouraging to see eagerness from both researchers and seafood stakeholders to take part in this conversation,” said Hannah Heimbuch who facilitated the event. “As fishermen and fishing communities, we are part of an ever changing ecosystem. Staying engaged on these longterm shifts, developing connections to those doing the in-depth research, that helps us keep our family businesses and food systems thriving. It helps us to be good stewards of the resources we depend on.”

This session was held on the heels of the “OA State of the Science workshop”, which highlighted interest in a more robust dialogue between OA experts and seafood stakeholders. Additional community Q&A sessions will take place this spring.

If you are interested in hosting this type of session in your community, please contact Alaska OA Network director Darcy Dugan at dugan@aoos.org.

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