Eastern Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Assessment

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The primary goals of the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Assessment program are to:

  1. Support coordination between ecosystem research activities
  2. Facilitate rapid uptake of ecosystem information to management
  3. Reinforce partnerships between Alaska Fisheries Science Center researchers, coastal communities, and regional managers
  4. Support the co-production of ecosystem knowledge
  5. Understand climate risk and build capacity for climate adaptation

A team of stakeholders, scientists, and managers came together under the guidance of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s ecosystem committee to carry out the Integrated Ecosystem Assessment framework in the Eastern Bering Sea. This team identified and developed ecosystem indicators, which tell us how the ecosystem is doing and report these ecosystem indicators as part of the ecosystem assessment to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council annually. The Eastern Bering Sea IEA team also develops models to evaluate management strategies and estimate risks to the ecosystem.


Eastern Bering Sea Ecosystem

The East Bering Sea Lare Marine Ecosystem is a high productivity system characterized by both an extensive gradually sloping shelf and a deep-sea basin. Productivity is influenced by temperature, currents and annual cycles of sea ice formation and freshwater input which influence trophodynamics and species productivity on annual and multi-annual timescales. Formation of sea ice during winter months is particularly important for spring and summer productivity and overlap between fish and their food resources and the region has experienced multiple shifts between warm and cold water regimes in recent decades.

The highly productive ecosystem in the Eastern Bering Sea (EBS) supports some of the most productive fisheries in the world and are critical to regional and national economies and food security. With more than 2 million tones of fish harvested annually from the system, more than 40% of all U.S. domestic commercial landings came from Alaska fisheries in the EBS for groundfish (including walleye pollock, Pacific cod, Pacific halibut, rockfish, and flatfish), crab and Pacific salmon, including the largest wild salmon fishery in the world for Bristol Bay sockeye salmon. This system, while having a relatively low human population density, experiences fishing, logging, mining, oil and gas development, low-level pollution, and industrial and urban development as stressors.


Informing management

Fisheries management in Alaska has a long history of including ecosystem information into management decisions. In 2015, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council initiated the development of a Bering Sea Fisheries Ecosystem Plan (Bering FEP). Development of the Bering FEP follows the Integrated Ecosystem Assessment framework of including stakeholder involvement, indicator development, scenario modeling, risk assessment, and management strategy evaluations.

The Eastern Bering Sea Ecosystem Status Reports are presented annually to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. Members consider this information when setting annual quotas for crab and groundfish.

Multi-species model-based indices are regularly reported in the annual Ecosystem Considerations chapter of Alaska Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) reports. The CEATTLE multispecies assessment model has been included as an appendix to the annual BSAI pollock assessment since 2016.

The NPFMC stated their ecosystem-based management goals are:

  • Maintain biodiversity consistent with natural evolutionary and ecological processes, including dynamic change and variability
  • Maintain and restore habitats essential for fish and their prey
  • Maintain system sustainability and sustainable yields for human consumption and non-extractive uses
  • Maintain the concept that humans are components of the ecosystem