SeaBank Report Quantifies Economic Importance of Fisheries to Southeast Alaska

Image: Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust.

A new economic report issued in early May by the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT) in Sitka underscores the importance of coastal ecosystems, fisheries, forests, waterways and wildlife to the economy of Southeast Alaska.

The report focuses on recent research related to climate change impacts on Southeast Alaska, including projections for much warmer temperatures under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, and identifies mitigation measures that would prove helpful in protecting the SeaBank’s green and blue carbon.

The term “SeaBank” was coined by ASFT to describe Southeast Alaska’s diverse coastline, stretching 500 miles from Metlakatla to Yakutat, an interconnecting network of land, water, vegetation, wildlife, resources, economies and culture.

ASFT launched the SeaBank program in 2017 for several reasons, including increasing public awareness about the natural bank, measuring annual capital that this bank provides, and quantifying the value generated for local, national and global beneficiaries.

The report notes that physical and biological diversities of SeaBank’s salmon-producing watersheds are globally unique, with Southeast Alaska possessing one of the two largest remaining productive salmon systems in the world, in large part because of natural capital assets including the world’s largest tract of mostly undisturbed coastal temperate rainforest.

The report notes that federally managed trawl fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea are killing highly migratory, highly valued fish, including halibut, sablefish and Chinook salmon, that would otherwise migrate through, mature, inhabit and/or spawn in Southeast Alaska waters.

Three-fourths of all fish caught in Southeast Alaska use the region’s estuaries during some part of their life cycling, including major groundfish species such as halibut, sablefish, cod and rockfish. Salmon pass through estuaries twice—during outmigration as smolts and when returning to spawn.

Southeast Alaska’s two largest private sector economies include the commercial fishing and seafood processing industry, which supports over 10,000 jobs, and the visitor products industry, which provides $1 billion in annual economic impact.

The report notes that warming temperatures due to climate change will rise in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as record heat, intense precipitation events associated with atmospheric rivers, marine heat waves and other anomalous weather events.

“The 2022 SeaBank report underscores that Southeast Alaska is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world,” ASFT founder Linda Behnken, who’s a veteran commercial harvester, said. “These coastal ecosystems are also highly vulnerable to a rapidly warming climate and industrial activities that diminish the productivity and overall value of Southeast Alaska’s ecosystem.”

“In 2022,” she added, “we celebrated reinstatement of Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass National Forest, a critical step forward for our planet and our region’s economic health and resilience.”