PSMFC Job Announcements | Fisheries Data Analyst (17-905 & 17-912)

PACIFIC STATES MARINE FISHERIES COMMISSION POSITION DESCRIPTION
Job 17-905 | Application Deadline 8.15.17 9pm PT | Apply Online www.psmfc.org/careers
Title: Fisheries Data Analyst (17-905)
Location: Juneau, Alaska (99801)
Anticipated Start Date: September 5, 2017
Position Type: Full Year (12 months or more), Hourly/Non-Exempt
Benefits Eligible: Yes | www.psmfc.org/benefits
Salary Target: $27.52/hour
Job Number: 17-905
How to Apply: Online at www.psmfc.org/careers
Closing Date: August 15, 2017 at 9pm PT
Group Definition: Data Management Specialists (Natural Sciences) use a background in the natural sciences as they assist in the population, maintenance, enhancement and distribution of databases. They locate, obtain, standardize, enter, verify, and correct various data sets related to project goals and work plans.


PACIFIC STATES MARINE FISHERIES COMMISSION POSITION DESCRIPTION
Job 17-912 | Application Deadline 8.15.17 9pm PT | Apply Online www.psmfc.org/careers
Title: Fisheries Data Analyst (17-912)
Location: Seattle, Washington (98115)
Anticipated Start Date: September 5, 2017
Position Type: Full Year (12 months or more), Hourly/Non-Exempt
Benefits Eligible: Yes | www.psmfc.org/benefits
Salary Target: $27.52/hour
Job Number: 17-912
How to Apply: Online at www.psmfc.org/careers
Closing Date: August 15, 2017 at 9pm PT
Group Definition: Data Management Specialists (Natural Sciences) use a background in the natural sciences as they assist in the population, maintenance, enhancement and distribution of databases. They locate, obtain, standardize, enter, verify, and correct various data sets related to project goals and work plans.

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Five new sensors will enable continuous monitoring of ocean acidification in Kachemak Bay

Metridium farcimen

Metridium farcimen , a giant anemone, is one of many species that inhabits Kachemak Bay. The bay is known for its incredible biological diversity. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kelley.

by Lauren Frisch

Researchers will be able to continuously monitor ocean acidification conditions in Kachemak Bay, Alaska thanks to five new sensors to be installed in September 2017.

University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences professor Amanda Kelley and her team installed a pH sensor at the Kasitsna Bay Laboratory in March 2017, and plan to deploy sensors throughout the bay in September. They will collect a range of ocean acidification data, allowing the researchers to study how fluctuating acidification conditions impact nearshore ecosystems, the shallow parts of the ocean right next to the coastline. This is important because Alaska has vast coastlines, vital subsistence and commercial fisheries and very little information on how ocean acidification impacts nearshore ecosystems.

Ocean acidification refers to a long-term decrease in ocean pH caused by increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide. The pH scale measures the degree to which something is acidic (like lemon juice) or basic (like baking soda).

Scientists from the CFOS Ocean Acidification Research Center have been monitoring acidification in the deeper open ocean since 2011, but there is no comparable data set documenting acidification in nearshore environments. Kelley’s team wants to fill that data gap, because nearshore environments play a critical ecological role in supporting and maintaining healthy Alaska fisheries.

“Nearshore ecosystems are complicated because they receive input from the open ocean as well as glaciers, rivers, the seafloor and more,” Kelley said. “But they are also very important, because many commercial fish and shellfish species in Alaska use the nearshore as a nursery environment. Understanding how pH fluctuates in nearshore environments will help us better understand what it might mean for species that are trying to grow and develop in the bay.”

As ocean acidification intensifies, animals like crabs and mollusks that make shells out of calcium carbonate may have difficulty growing or maintaining these shells. Commercially important finfish like salmon and pollock that rely on these organisms as a source of food may be indirectly impacted by ocean acidification if their food source is affected.

Often, the shell-building animals are even more vulnerable during their early years when they are growing and developing. Because nearshore environments serve as a nursery for many species, even small fluctuations in pH may have a substantial impact.

“Early life stages of a number of marine species spend time in these estuaries, which are highly dynamic,” said Angela Doroff, a research coordinator at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. “We are working toward establishing baseline variability and long-term trends for pH ranges in the estuary in order to better understand impacts on animals that are developing in these environments.”

But if animals are used to rapidly changing conditions in the nearshore, they might actually be more adapted to changes in pH than animals living in a more stable or constant ecosystems. Kelley explains that monitoring regular seasonal fluctuations in pH will help the research team understand what kind of pH variability nearshore species can withstand, and what they might be in for as acidification episodes intensify in the future.

This project is a collaboration between the Ocean Acidification Research Center, NOAA Kasitsna Bay Laboratory and Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The research is funded by the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the NOAA Habitat Blueprint, Kachemak Bay Habitat Focus Area, KBNERR Bivalve Habitat grant.

go pro image

SeaFET pH sensors secured to the dock piling in front of the Kasitsna Bay Laboratory in Kachemak Bay. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kelley.

The five SeaFET sensors the team plans to use will remain in the water for a year before being recovered to download data and check the battery. Then they can be redeployed for another year of data collection. A few times a year the researchers will go out to calibrate the sensors, or make sure the sensors are giving numbers that are consistent with actual water conditions. All of this can be done with scuba divers in small boats.

“It’s a low maintenance program,” Kelley said. “Yet the ability to collect continuous data from five sensors in the same bay is groundbreaking for Alaska. We don’t have this comprehensive a data set anywhere in the state.”

The researchers plan to leave these five sensors in Kachemak Bay as long as funding is available, allowing the sensors to build a record that can be used to reveal how Kachemak Bay pH conditions vary throughout the seasons, and how they are changing over time. But they also hope to expand the program to other parts of coastal Alaska.

Each coastline is unique, with different drivers and mechanisms that cause acidification conditions to fluctuate. As a result, species in each region may be adapted to different environmental conditions. One long-term goal is to be able to compare nearshore environments around the state by comparing data collected by different networks of sensors, Kelley said.

Additionally, by comparing measured trends in pH to biological and ecosystem data collected by other research teams in Kachemak Bay, Kelley’s team hopes to understand how ocean acidification fits into the broader context of ecosystem change in the region.

This research will benefit people living near Kachemak Bay who rely on the bay as a source of food, Doroff explains. Residents of Kachemak Bay are engaged in coastal issues, and want to have a better understanding of what’s going on in their backyard.

“For those of us living close to our food source, ocean acidification is a scary topic,” Doroff said. “People who live and work in Kachemak Bay are aware of ocean acidification, and we lack the specific ways of how it could affect our food sources, our fisheries.”

sunset

Kachemak Bay at sunset, taken from the dock at the Kasitsna Bay Laboratory. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kelley.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Amanda Kelley, alkelley@alaska.edu, 907-474-2474, Angela Doroff, adoroff@alaska.edu, 541-888-8270 x 315

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Virtual tour of R/V Sikuliaq

This virtual tour of R/V Sikuliaq was created by Kim Kenny, who will be communicating on behalf of the Dynamic Arctic cruise on Sikuliaq this August. More information on their cruise can be found at thedynamicarctic.com.

Click on the photo to access the virtual tour.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Kim Kenny, kimberlyannekenny@gmail.com

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Faculty Focus: Anne Beaudreau

by Barb Hameister

Anne and son James. Photo by Cheryl Barnes.

It takes some people a long time to discover what they want to be when they grow up—but Anne Beaudreau knew from an early age that she wanted to be a marine biologist.

Originally from Rhode Island, Anne now lives in Juneau, where she is an associate professor of Fisheries at the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. She was the eldest of four in a family that was very focused on the arts and education, and grew up playing the violin and studying drawing and painting.

She also spent many happy days at the shore with her family, and the beach was an infinite source of wonder. “I would get a sore neck from walking along with my head down, searching intently for shells, rocks, sea glass, and other treasures,” she says. “My fascination with the sea and marine life just grew from there.”

Anne went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Biology at Harvard University. In her junior year, with the romance of the sea still beckoning, she spent a semester in the Sea Education Association program. Anne and her fellow students spent six weeks studying topics such as oceanography, maritime history and celestial navigation, followed by six weeks on a tall ship in the Atlantic. It was a pivotal experience that introduced her to the excitement of life at sea and the vibrant history of New England fisheries, thus setting the trajectory for her future career.

After graduating, Anne put her training to work as a fishery analyst for the New England Fishery Management Council, synthesizing information to support federal fishery management plans. It wasn’t always easy going, but she says despite the sometimes contentious atmosphere of New England fishery management, she found herself inspired by the scientists and fishermen who were working together on research that would help build sustainable fisheries. So inspired, in fact, that she decided she wanted to become one of those scientists, and moved across the country to Seattle to learn how.

At the University of Washington, Anne earned a Ph.D. studying the biology and ecology of lingcod, working closely with the recreational fishing community to collect her samples. In turn, these relationships inspired her postdoctoral research at UW and NOAA, where she sought to reconstruct historical abundance of Puget Sound species from fishermen’s local knowledge.

Alaska had first captured Anne’s imagination in 1989 after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, when, as a 10-year-old, she was moved by the plight of oiled sea otters. While living in Washington, with Alaska practically in her back yard, she kept finding ways to visit—first as a volunteer scientist on a NOAA cruise in the Aleutians, then as an unofficial cook on board a purse seiner in Southeast Alaska and a conference attendee at a groundfish meeting in Juneau. When a UAF faculty position opened up, Anne was quick to apply, and she has been happily based in Juneau since January 2012.

At CFOS, Anne and her students study the ecology and human dimensions of coastal fisheries. Much of their work focuses on change, from the dynamics of food webs in estuaries to the impacts of social and environmental change on fishing communities.

One recent study, funded by EPSCoR and Alaska Sea Grant, focused on understanding how receding glaciers and changes in rainfall in the Juneau area will impact the nutrition and growth of estuarine and nearshore marine species. A related ongoing study is investigating the impact of predation by nearshore species on hatchery salmon smolts in estuaries. This work will help guide future management decisions and hatchery release strategies.

Another project has been looking at the effects of regulatory change on charter halibut fishermen in Alaska. Through interviews, the research team found that charter captains are targeting a wider number of species than in the past, and are using different fishing grounds. In some areas these changes are attributed to more restrictive regulations driven by a decrease in the average size of halibut, while in other areas shifts in target species are driven by customer preferences.

While the research being done in Anne’s lab covers a wide variety of topics, a common thread is the use of approaches and perspectives from multiple disciplines, including fisheries science, ecology, and anthropology.

“I truly believe that addressing complex, multidimensional problems in resource management requires approaches and ideas that are not drawn from one discipline alone,” Anne says. “Academia often creates silos in our training and thinking; depth is essential for becoming an expert, but breadth fosters creative problem-solving. Both are important.”

With her early grounding in music and art, Anne is also inspired to explore synergies between the arts and science. She recently directed and produced her first short film, about the value of fishermen’s local knowledge to science and management. While she had many collaborators on the project, perhaps the one most dear to her was her brother Lou, who composed the musical score and mixed the sound. Anne says she is eager to continue finding ways to bring together science, art and storytelling.

This interest in storytelling has also inspired Anne to delve into science communication, and help others learn how to tell their story. She developed and now teaches the course Communicating Science to the Public, in which students practice talking about their research with non-scientists. They learn how to tell science stories that connect with an audience, how to put more humanity into science, and explore ways to personally be ambassadors for science.

“The experience is rigorous, challenging, and, at times, transformative for both the students and me,” Anne says. “I am looking forward to many more years of teaching and learning!”

Find out more about Anne and her research by visiting her website.

Anne with halibut. Photo by Kari Fenske.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Anne Beaudreau, abeaudreau@alaska.edu, 907-796-5454

 

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Oceanography opens UAF researcher to global possibilities

UAF oceanographer Mark Johnson is pictured while doing field research on Amchitka Island in the Aleutians. Photo courtesy Mark Johnson

The original story can be found at UAF News and Information.

by Lauren Frisch

Mark Johnson may hold the world record for largest geographic range in which someone has practiced tai chi.

It’s hard to know for sure. But Johnson has done tai chi at McMurdo Station in Antarctica all the way north to Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago near the North Pole. He has been practicing and instructing tai chi for almost 30 years, and uses the exercise to help stay flexible and balanced.

Johnson travels to these remote locations as a physical oceanographer for the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, studying different environmental factors, including air masses, sea ice and river runoff, that make oceans behave in certain ways.

For Johnson, the northern reaches of the world are the biggest attraction.

“I am drawn to working in the Arctic,” Johnson said. “The fieldwork is so compelling. I find it amazing that my job is to figure out how Arctic systems work, to live here to observe and measure what’s going on.”

During his graduate program at Texas A&M University, Johnson studied the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, an ocean current in the Southern Hemisphere that flows around Antarctica. As a postdoctoral fellow at Florida State University, Johnson’s research focus shifted toward the equator to study the El Niño Southern Oscillation, an irregular climate pattern that drives changes in the global climate every few years.

Johnson moved to Fairbanks in 1990 to research teleconnections, or interconnected air and ocean interactions, between the equator and higher latitudes. These teleconnections can help explain how Arctic weather and ocean circulation are affected by what’s happening down at the equator, or vice versa.

Interesting and relevant research topics drove Johnson from Antarctica to the equator, and finally to UAF. But it was fieldwork in icy Arctic water that finally solidified the North as Johnson’s home and preferred region for his research.

“I have one memory of working on the ice that was truly special,” he said. “I had to get up for the midnight watch during a cruise up in the Fram Strait off Greenland. I walked on deck in the bright sun. The ice was beautiful and I realized in that moment how spectacular it is to have 24 hours of light in the summer. I had been tired and groggy, but five minutes in the blazing midnight sun woke me up. It was just too cool. I couldn’t believe this was my life.”

While research projects ebb and flow, Johnson is currently working on two projects at opposite ends of Alaska.

The first project is investigating variables that influence when sea ice forms in the fall and breaks up in the spring. This project started in Svalbard but has recently expanded to Utkiagvik, Alaska.

“Understanding when the ice breaks up from wave action in the spring or what retards its freeze-up in the fall will help us define the operational window in the Arctic,” Johnson said. “That’s a multibillion-dollar question, if you know how late you can drill or how early you can start shipping things across the Arctic. It’s hugely important both to the state and internationally.”

Johnson is also part of a team focused on revising an ocean circulation chart of Cook Inlet that was produced in 1977. This updated chart will be useful for anyone using ocean circulation to better understand ecosystem dynamics and the flow of nutrients, or track gas leaks and oil spills.

In the end, Johnson said, he wants to do good science that is relevant to society, and to do it with interesting people.

And when a research cruise gets stressful, or he finds himself spending hours working hard in the same position on a lab bench, Johnson uses tai chi as an opportunity to relax and reenergize. The ability to bring his tai chi with him wherever he goes helps him remain focused on the broader research mission.

“I feel very lucky to have a job like this,” said Johnson. “I really like knowing that I’m contributing to meaningful research that will help make people’s lives better.”

UAF researcher Mark Johnson, left, takes an ice core sample with colleagues Evgeny Karulin, with the State Marine Technical University of St. Petersburg, and Aleksey Marchenko, of the University Centre in Svalbard, on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Photo courtesy of Mark Johnson

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Mark Johnson, majohnson@alaska.edu, 907-474-6933

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Spring Sikuliaq cruise launches new Bering, Chukchi research program

The original story can be found at UAF News and Information.

by Lauren Frisch

Sarah Hardy

Associate professor Sarah Hardy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, at left, and her sediment team filter out a multicore mud sample on board the research vessel Sikuliaq in June. Photo by Brendan Smith.

University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists have completed the first cruise in a new comprehensive program studying late spring dynamics in the Bering and Chukchi seas.

Researchers from the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences spent the month of June 2017 on research vessel Sikuliaq investigating variables that influence spring productivity and food web dynamics, and studying how declining ice cover may influence Arctic ecosystems.

“Scientists have tended to study the Arctic later in the summer, when ice is low and it’s easier to get around,” said CFOS professor and chief scientist Seth Danielson. “But there are biologically important processes that also occur in winter and spring, so our focus is shifting to these other times of year, and how such processes impact the ecosystem that we have observed later in the summer.”

During the June cruise, the researchers measured growth rates, oxygen consumption rates, productivity rates, sinking rates of particles and how quickly ocean currents affect the flow of water and materials from south to north. They took samples from the water column and the seafloor sediments.

Much of the data they collected still needs to be processed and analyzed, so the team won’t have final results for months or even years. But CFOS professor Russ Hopcroft noticed a few surprising things while on board.

“The water was a lot warmer than we were anticipating at this time of year,” said Hopcroft. “But without knowing how this compares to other years and other regions, it’s hard to put that information in perspective. That’s why it’s so important to study different regions year after year in the Arctic. Things are rapidly changing, and we need to get a grasp on what normal is now to be able to measure this change.”

Hopcroft’s plankton team observed a dominance of Neocalanus copepods, tiny animals at the bottom of the food chain that are transported seasonally from the Gulf of Alaska.

“If this was a typical year, then we’ve really underestimated how important Neocalanus are as a seasonal food resource for species higher up in the food chain,” Hopcroft said.

Because Neocalanus cannot spawn successfully in the Arctic, Hopcroft said, he did not expect the species to be more abundant than plankton that live in the Arctic permanently. The abundance of Neocalanus is important because the makeup of the species at the bottom of the food chain can dictate energy and food availability for fish and marine mammals higher up in the food chain. More years of sampling are necessary to determine whether this abundance reflects normal conditions for the time and region.

This cruise was the first in the North Pacific Research Board’s new Arctic Integrated Ecosystem Research Program, a five-year program focusing on how reduced sea ice influences the Arctic marine ecosystem. The research program is sponsored by the North Pacific Research Board, the Collaborative Alaskan Arctic Studies Program, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the Office of Naval Research Marine Mammals and Biology Program, along with in-kind support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and UAF.

Russ Hopcroft

Russ Hopcroft, professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, looks for different species of zooplankton in a water sample while on board the research vessel Sikuliaq in June. Photo by Brendan Smith

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Seth Danielson, sldanielson@alaska.edu, 907-474-7834,
Russell Hopcroft, rrhopcroft@alaska.edu, 907-474-7842

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North Pacific Research Board’s Arctic Program blog highlights recent Sikuliaq cruise in Bering, Chukchi seas

Brittany Jones carries a sediment core

Brittany Jones carries a sediment core after a multi-core deployment. Jones studied energy needs for two Chukchi Sea clams during the June 2017 Sikuliaq cruise. Photo by Brendan Smith.

A blog created by the North Pacific Research Board and moderated by NPRB Communications and Outreach Director Brendan Smith documents a June 2017 cruise on R/V Sikuliaq, led by College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences professor Seth Danielson. This cruise was part of the new NPRB Arctic Integrated Ecosystem Research Program, a five-year program focusing on how reduced sea ice influences the Arctic marine ecosystem.

Background on the program from the NPRB Arctic website:

In recent years, our understanding of the composition and structure of the Chukchi ecosystem has increased greatly, yet our knowledge outside of summer and fall months and year-round of the rates at which fundamental processes operate remains sorely lacking. This research expedition is one of a pair of late spring cruises to the northern Bering and southern Chukchi Seas in 2017 and 2018 at locations and times of year to conduct a closely integrated set of multi-­disciplinary process studies.

The goal of the Arctic Program is to better understand the mechanisms and processes that structure the Arctic marine ecosystem and influence the distribution, life history, and interactions of biological communities in the Chukchi Sea. NPRB is interested in research that addresses phenology and the alignment in space and time of primary production, secondary producers, and upper trophic level predators.

The Arctic Program will integrate observations collected during spring, summer, and fall in 2017, 2018, and 2019 to better understand how reduced Arctic sea ice and associated environmental changes influence the flow of energy through the marine ecosystem from plankton to fish, seabirds, marine mammals, and humans. Late spring and early summer sampling will occur in 2017 and 2018 aboard the R/V Sikuliaq. Late summer and early fall sampling will occur in 2017 and 2019.

Peter Shipton carts into position the first of six moorings to be deployed during the cruise. Photo by Brendan Smith.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Seth Danielson, sldanielson@alaska.edu, 907-474-7834

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Exhibit will highlight human connections to Aleutian Islands

The original story can be found at UAF News and Information.

by Lauren Frisch

A new traveling exhibit will teach visitors how human communities have relied on the Aleutian Islands as a source of food and protection.

Ribbon kelp creates a forest in the Aleutians Islands. An upcoming exhibit at the Museum of the Aleutians in Unalaska will explore such coastal environments and human dependence upon them. Photo by Brenda Konar.

“Underwater Forests of the Aleutians” will open at the Museum of the Aleutians in Unalaska on July 13, 2017. Visitors will learn about ecosystems in the coastal environments surrounding the Aleutians and how human communities depend on the resources that thrive there.

Brenda Konar, a professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, said the exhibit presents these prominent ecosystems as a starting point. “We also want to focus on the coastal waters that so many people rely on where kelp, sea otters and sea urchins have had a dynamic history.”

Coastal ecosystems in the Aleutians can be populated with dense kelp forests, rocky urchin barrens or a combination of the two, something scientists call transition zones. Konar said the specific makeup of the coastal ecosystem is often dependent on predation from species higher up in the food chain, such as sea otters and killer whales.

These species and ecosystems provide valuable resources for Aleutian communities. For example, kelp forests play an important role in coastal areas as a nursery for fish and invertebrates that support nationally important commercial fisheries and coastal Alaska communities. Kelp also protect shorelines from coastal erosion and are an important food source for coastal communities.

Alaska Sea Grant agent Melissa Good hopes the images and artifacts on display are a visual that will spark interest in the Aleutians and help visitors understand the diversity and complexity of nearshore ocean environments.

“The Aleutian Islands harbor this beautiful, dynamic and productive system that many people currently rely on but seldom can picture,” Good said. “This exhibit brings people into the kelp forests and tells a story about our past and present.”

The exhibit will be interactive, featuring biological samples such as otter pelts and skulls, harpoon and spear artifact replicas, and equipment that researchers use to study the region.

Konar and Good have teamed with Museum of the Aleutians director Virginia Hatfield; San Diego State University professor Matthew Edwards, who specializes in temporal and spatial patterns in coastal marine communities; and archaeologists Mike Etnier, of the University of Washington, and Dixie West, of Kansas State University. Exhibit Alaska created the design and panels.

The exhibit is expected to remain in Unalaska until October, when it will travel to St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands. From there, the exhibit may travel to more Aleutian communities and then others around the state.

“We are excited that the exhibit will start at the Museum of the Aleutians, because these kelp forest ecosystems that the exhibit talks about are right in our visitors’ backyards,” Konar said. “But we also want to make sure people around the state have the chance to learn about this important ecosystem.”

Scientific divers study underwater photosynthesis rates using a Benthic Isolation Tent. Photo by Brenda Konar.

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Brenda Konar, 907-474-5028, bhkonar@alaska.edu; Melissa Good, melissa.good@alaska.edu, 907-581-1876

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Plastic-related chemicals may be impacting Aleutian seabird populations

A red-faced cormorant on its nest on St. Paul Island in summer 2015. Photo by Veronica Padula.

by Lauren Frisch

University of Alaska researchers are measuring concentrations of plastic-related chemicals in seabirds on remote western Aleutian Islands. These chemicals could be one explanation for a major decline in seabird populations that has occurred over the past few decades.

“We wanted to find out if a change in diet had anything to do with the population declines,” said Veronica Padula, a PhD student in a joint program with the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and the University of Alaska Anchorage. “But when we found microplastics inside the seabirds, the scope of our project evolved to focus on the impacts that might have on seabird populations.”

The researchers chose western Aleutian bird populations for their study because they are isolated from human populations. From Adak, Alaska, it’s still about a forty-hour steam in a research vessel to get to the western tip of the Aleutians. Currently, there are no human communities this far out.

But these birds have seen major declines in recent decades. “There were about 90,000 Red-faced Cormorants in Attu when I first started working there in the 1970s,” said University of Alaska Anchorage researcher Douglas Causey. “When I went there in 2016, we worked hard to see 200 of them.”

Because the seabird populations are so isolated, understanding what is causing the numbers to decline may reveal a lot about larger-scale environmental change. There are no direct human stressors on these bird populations. Changes to the population could be triggered by a number of factors including climate change, increasing exposure to chemicals, or changes in food source.

“At first we were looking at what the seabirds were eating using stable isotope analysis,” said Padula. “But when we started opening up their stomachs, we found plastics inside our birds. And we thought ha! This is weird. It was not on our radar. It really was not what we were expecting to find.”

It can be very obvious when certain seabirds are exposed to plastics, Padula explained. If birds consume big or awkwardly shaped plastic, it can fill up their stomachs and lead to starvation. This has affected albatross populations in Hawaii. Additionally, gannets in the British Isles got tangled trying to create their nests out of fishing lines, which was also very visible.

“But this was not the case with Aleutian seabirds,” Padula explained. “There was no evidence of physical trauma caused by consumption or use of plastics.”

Unlike gannets and albatross, seabirds in the Aleutians have been exposed to tiny pieces of plastic called microplastics. In many cases, the plastic pieces pass through the animals’ systems. Even if the plastic did not pass through, the pieces are so small that it would take a long time for the animal to consume enough to fill its stomach and lead to starvation.

These vials contain visually identifiable plastic found in five Aleutian seabirds. Photo by Veronica Padula.

Padula, Causey and their team became interested in investigating why it might matter that the western Aleutian seabirds are consuming the microplastics, and if this could be leading to the decline in population numbers over the past few decades. Their research is funded by the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, United States Geological Survey Climate Science Center, Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Conoco Phillips Endowment Grant, and the LGL scholarship at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The scientists joined forces with the Applied Science, Engineering and Technology lab at the University of Alaska Anchorage, an analytical chemistry lab down the hall that focuses on studying contaminants in environmental samples. The chemists offered to search Padula’s birds for phthalates, which are plastic-associated chemicals.

While roughly one-fourth of the birds had plastics in their stomachs at the time that they were collected, the chemists tested tissues from collected birds with and without visually detectable plastic inside.

University of Alaska Anchorage undergraduate student Rachel Dunbar prepares muscle tissue samples for phthalate analysis in the analytical chemistry lab. Photo by Veronica Padula.

“Regardless of whether or not they had plastic in their stomachs, more often than not the birds had phthalates in their tissues,” Padula said. “This signals to us that at some point in the bird’s life, either it got exposed to plastic or ate something that had been exposed, transferring those chemicals.”

Padula hopes these results will motivate additional research projects that dig deeper into how phthalates may be impacting Aleutian seabirds. At certain levels, phthalates are associated with higher levels of infertility, cancer and early puberty in humans. Although this could be the case in seabirds as well, researchers don’t have the background information or a good measure for a dangerous level of exposure in birds.

This sheds light on the far-reaching implications of the human impact, said Padula. Phthalates are manufactured by humans, and are traveling thousands of miles in the ocean to the birds of the western Aleutians.

“Whatever the broader impacts are for the population, it hits me personally that this should not be happening in the first place,” Padula said. “We do not live in a bubble, and all of our actions affect the environment around us.”

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Veronica Padula, vmpadula@alaska.edu, 907-546-3231; Douglas Causey, dcausey@alaska.edu, 907-786-1310

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Study: Halibut charters adapt to economics and regulations

This halibut sculpture decorates the Homer Spit. Photo by Anne Beaudreau.

The original story can be found at UAF News and Information.

by Lauren Frisch

Increasing fuel prices and new regulations have caused halibut charter fishermen to change fishing locations, according to a new study by University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, highlights the importance of understanding how economics and regulations may affect fishing locations or species preferences in recreational fisheries.

College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences doctoral student Maggie Chan and professor Anne Beaudreau studied how charter fishing locations outside of Homer and Sitka have changed since the 1990s. The analysis is one piece of a larger effort to understand how external factors influence fishing behavior and opportunities.

The researchers interviewed charter fishermen in Homer and Sitka to learn about where they fish, what they fish and how this has changed over time. Fishermen were given a map for every decade in which they had fished and were asked to identify general areas they used. Individual maps were combined to visualize changes across decades.

“Our main goal was to identify any big shifts in where fishermen were going,” Chan said.

The researchers found an individual’s motivations for changing locations were often intertwined with fishing regulations and socioeconomic variables that were outside of a fisherman’s control.

Since the early 1990s, charter fishermen in Homer have consistently traveled about 10 times farther to their fishing spots than Sitka fishermen. This was in part because traveling farther allowed the fishermen to also target salmon, rockfish and lingcod. When fuel prices increased in the early 2000s, though, some charter fishermen started fishing closer to home.

In contrast, Sitka fishermen changed locations primarily because of a new regulation. In 1999, a Local Area Management Plan eliminated charter and commercial fishing in Sitka Sound during summer months. This new regulation forced charter fishermen to travel 25 miles or more to catch halibut, even though population numbers in the sound were high.

The study results suggest managers should consider a more holistic approach, such as multispecies regulations, rather than regulating individual species, Chan said. Single-species management limits the ability to consider how changes for one species might affect other species or habitats.

“It is critical for charter fishermen to be able to adapt in the face of a changing regulatory landscape and environmental change,” Chan said. “This is clear in the examples of charter fishermen in both Sitka and Homer who have differentially responded to changes that have occurred at the local level.”

Chan said multispecies or ecosystem-based management would better evaluate the full context of a new regulation, which may better account for how charter fishermen are likely to adapt to local change.

The publication, Evaluating patterns and drivers of spatial change in the recreational guided fishing sector in Alaska, can be found on the PLOS ONE website.

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Anne Beaudreau, abeaudreau@alaska.edu, 907-796-5454; Maggie Chan, nlchan@alaska.edu

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