Commercial fishermen harvesting their catch in the far reaches of the Bering Sea are collecting ecological observations, including changes in fisheries and ocean conditions, to help prepare for climate-ready fisheries.
Since the program was establishment earlier this year, some 1,697 fishermen have provided their views on climate change via telephone interviews in the Skipper Science program, which is endorsed by 19 Alaska-based fishing trade organizations. Also this year, 100 commercial harvesters signed up for the program, a collaboration of the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island tribal government and SalmonState’s Salmon Habitat Information Program (SHIP).
A key tool of the program is a smartphone app that allows fishermen and women to log their observations in real time from fishing grounds in the role of citizen scientists cataloging conditions that may be climate change related.
Lauren Divine, director of the ecosystem conservation office for the tribal government at St. Paul, said that with this summer’s results it is clear fishermen are up for the work of using technology to contribute their observations and knowledge to the data set.
“In concert with Alaska’s fishing fleets, we can meet the challenges of fishing and managing sustainable fisheries in a changing climate, ensuring commercial fishing economies remain strong for generations to come,” Divine said. “We were blown away by the amount of organizations and associations willing to endorse and support this project,” said Lindsey Bloom, manager of the SHIP program for SalmonState.
Sponsors range from commercial fishing entities in the Pribilofs and Bristol Bay to Cordova District Fishermen United, Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, Copper River Seafood Marketing Association and United Cook Inlet Drifters Association to Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.
A trial Skipper Science program was conducted in 2016 in Unalaska by the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, Alaska Sea Grant and Aleutian Bering Sea Initiative, as a possible expansion of the Indigenous Sentinels Network, which has operated in the Bering Sea for over 20 years. That online database tool is designed for non-scientists in remote locations to systematically record and share environmental and biological data in a standardized way.