Graphical AbstractAlaska is dependent on a healthy marine environment to preserve its commercial fishing industry and the traditional subsistence harvest of seafood. Researchers are anticipating rapid changes in temperature and ocean acidification of the waters that support Alaska’s fisheries. A study has recently been published that promotes the use of an ocean acidification risk assessment for Alaskan fisheries.

Many of the seafood species harvested in Alaska are intensely effected by ocean acidification. Animals like crab and shrimp depend on calcium as they develop to form their shells. Previous studies have looked into the economic impact of ocean acidification on Alaska’s fisheries, but there is more to the issue than just dollars. Alaskans depend on marine fisheries to support their livelihoods through commercial fishing or subsistence harvest of seafood. Many people in Alaska fish commercially and live a subsistence lifestyle.

This study, titled Ocean acidification risk assessment for Alaska’s fishery sector, looks at how Alaskans depend on the marine environment and the negative effects of ocean acidification can have to it. Researchers used a model developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to analyze data available on water chemistry, seafood harvests and census surveys. The final product of this work is a overall risk assessment for people across Alaska.

Southeast and southwest Alaska were shown to be most at risk from an interruption to marine fisheries. Contributing factors are a heavy reliance on seafood harvests, coupled with poverty and limited employment opportunities.

The authors of the study say, “In Alaska, where dependence on marine resources is strong, traditional, and very deep-rooted, attempting to reduce risk from OA or any other marine-related type of global change simply by decreasing dependence on marine resources may be a poor fit. Instead, users and decision makers must consider the elements that contribute to risk, as well as those that offset it, and attempt to choose a path that optimizes these yet retains traditional and contemporary uses of these valuable marine resources.”

This effort is seen by its authors as just an intermediate step in an overall effort that needs to develop a full understanding of the effects ocean acidification will have on people in Alaska. Many Alaskan communities are suffering social and economic stress. Governmental planners should consider ocean health as another factor in policy development.

The full text of Ocean acidification risk assessment for Alaska’s fishery sector can be seen at ScienceDirect.