Arctic Integrated Ecosystem Assessment

The Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) is an approach that brings social, environmental and ecological science and management advice to natural resource managers. In the United States NOAA manages the Alaskan Arctic. International efforts are in the realm of the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) working group of the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council is comprised of the eight Arctic nations, six organizations representing Arctic indigenous peoples, non-Arctic States, Intergovernmental organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations. PAME is the focal point of the Arctic Council’s activities related to the protection and sustainable use of the Arctic marine environment and provides a unique forum for collaboration on a wide range of activities in this regard.

The Ecosystem Approach is an overarching principle adopted by the Arctic Council for protection and sustainable use of the Arctic marine environment. This approach is very similar to the Integrated Ecosystem Assessment. To learn more about how the IEA is informing the Arctic Council go here.

In 2012, NOAA did a preliminary assessment of the Alaskan Arctic ecosystem. The intent of assessing the Alaska Arctic is to provide information placed within a broad ecosystem context to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council that would be useful when making decisions on the authorization and management of new fisheries in the Alaska Arctic. The council currently has an Arctic Fisheries Management Plan where this information can be incorporated.

Currently there is a moratorium on fishing in the Arctic until there is a better understanding of the ecosystem.

The Alaska IEA team intends for future Arctic assessments to include indicators that directly address ecosystem-level processes and attributes that can inform fishery management advice. There is a continued need to convene Arctic experts to identify a list of indicators and corresponding time series data that best capture ecosystem components and trends that would be of value to fishery managers.




Alaskan Arctic Ecosystem

The Beaufort Sea is a moderately low productivity, high-latitude region with an Arctic climate that is highly influenced by seasonal conditions. Much of the region is ice-covered throughout the year and light limitation reduces productivity except during the summer season. The coastal region supports a variety of organisms and provides habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, marine birds, anadromous fish. Offshore resources include Arctic cod, saffron cod, eelpouts and sculpin which along with smelt, provide support for populations such as beluga whales, seals and seabirds. The region is sparsely inhabited and several indigenous peoples practice subsistence whaling and fishing. Main pressures on the system include oil and gas exploration, pollutants, climate warming, sea ice loss and potential for establishment of shipping routes through the Arctic.

The Chukchi Sea Large Marine Ecosystem is dominated by a high-latitude and relatively shallow sea with an extensive continental shelf. This LME experiences the Arctic climate and primary productivity is heavily influenced by seasonal ice formation and melt; the range of primary production estimates for this ecosystem encompasses both low and very high productivity, depending on conditions. Important species are salmon, herring, sea birds, walrus, seals and whales. The region is remote and sparsely populated by indigenous peoples. The ecosystem is very lightly exploited and the coastal areas are relatively pristine. Stressors on the ecosystem include oil and gas production, persistent organic pollutants, seismic exploration, and climate warming.