Economic Report Suggests Protections Needed For Southeast Alaska Coastal Waters

The following is courtesy of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust:

SITKA, AK – In November, the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust released its third annual SeaBank report which quantifies the value of the ecosystem services generated by Southeast Alaska’s rich natural capital and also identifies potential risks to them, including climate change, industrial logging, and industrial trawl fishery bycatch. The 2020 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, as well as provides recommended mitigation measures that would help protect SeaBank’s green and blue carbon.

The Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust coined the term “SeaBank” to describe Southeast Alaska’s diverse coastline, which extends 500 miles from Metlakatla to Yakutat and its interconnected network of land, water, vegetation, wildlife, resources, economies and culture. It launched the SeaBank program in 2017 to serve several functions, including increasing public awareness about Southeast Alaska’s natural bank, measuring the annual capital that this bank provides, and quantifying the value generated for local, national, and global beneficiaries. 

“As our region weighs resource management decisions and develops adaptation strategies for climate change, we think it’s critical that stakeholders and policy makers factor in the true value of SeaBank’s ecosystem services so that we can make informed long-term decisions that ensure more sustainable economies and local communities,” said Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust founder and Sitka-based commercial fisherman, Linda Behnken. 

Some highlights from the 2020 SeaBank report include:

  • The physical and biological diversities of SeaBank’s salmon-producing watersheds are globally unique. Southeast Alaska possesses one of the two largest remaining productive salmon systems in the world in large part because of natural capital assets that include the planet’s largest tract of mostly undisturbed coastal temperate rainforest.  
  • SeaBank’s coastal temperate rainforest is a globally significant and irreplaceable carbon sink. Old-growth forests store much more carbon relative to other forests, making them critical to climate regulation. The live tree carbon storage capacity in SeaBank forests is nearly twice as high as other U.S. forests. Preserving the region’s many maturing second-growth forests is also critical because the increase in the carbon balance is highest for trees between 100 and 200 years old.
  • Three-fourths of all fish caught in Southeast Alaska use the region’s estuaries during some part of their life history, including major groundfish species such as halibut, sablefish, cod and rockfish. Salmon pass through estuaries twice — during outmigration as smolts and then when returning to spawn.
  • Southeast Alaska’s two largest private sector economies include the commercial fishing and seafood processing industry, which supports more than 10,000 jobs, and the visitor products industry, which provides $1 billion in annual economic impact.
  • Warming temperatures due to climate change will increase the 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.   
  • Seagrass meadows and kelp forests in particular are highly vulnerable ecosystems with low ability to relocate and high sensitivity to ocean warming, marine heat waves, and acidification. 
  • Low marine productivity is becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change. These changes in the marine environment’s productivity increase the importance of protecting freshwater habitat for salmon populations from high levels of habitat degradation caused by industrial logging.
  • Federally managed trawl fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea are killing highly migratory, highly valued fish (e.g. halibut, sablefish, Chinook salmon) that would otherwise find their way to migrate through, mature, inhabit and/or spawn in Southeast Alaska waters.  

“The 2020 SeaBank report underscores that Southeast Alaska is one of the  most productive ecosystems in the world,” said Behnken. “These coastal ecosystems are also incredibly vulnerable to a rapidly warming climate and industrial activities that diminish the productivity and overall value of Southeast Alaska’s ecosystem. That’s why it’s so important we do everything that we can to protect the region’s natural capital of forest, rivers, and estuaries by restoring Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass National Forest. It’s not only the right thing to do for our planet, but also for our region’s economic health and resilience.”

SeaBank’s 2020 annual report can be accessed on the SeaBank website –

The Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust aims to educate, activate and inspire consumers, while engaging community-based fishermen in programs that promote healthy fisheries. By combining ecology, economics, and the common good, we work to ensure resilient communities and robust resources throughout coastal Alaska.