PWSEDD seeks to develop climate action plan for fisheries economy

Carpenter: There is no model from the top, leaving communities on their own

With fisheries disasters mounting in recent years, the Prince William Sound Economic Development District (PWSEDD) is collaborating with NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center to assess climate vulnerabilities of Cordova area fisheries and plan for adaptation.

The economic development district, working with NOAA research social scientist Marysia Szymkowiak,

announced in mid-March that they are looking for partners in this Gulf of Alaska Integrated Modeling Project that NOAA is engaged in, to identify factors affecting present and future ecosystem-level productivity and to assess economic and social impacts on fishing communities.

PWSEDD officials said that the ultimate goal is resilience: the capacity to prevent, withstand, respond to and recover from disruptions.

“We’re just starting and we are doing it very informally,” said Kristin Carpenter, executive director of the PWSEDD. “We don’t have dedicated funding.” 

Katrina Hoffman and staff at the Prince William Sound Science Center have submitted a proposal to NOAA for funding for the project, but won’t learn of NOAA’s decision until June, she said.


“We haven’t been talking about climate change in Prince William Sound. Basically, there is no model coming from the top. Some people are turning to kelp farming because they are trying to diversify their income. There is a lot of hopefulness around kelp as a crop that can generate income and help mitigate ocean acidification,” Hoffman said. “If you grow kelp by oysters, it can help the oyster grow faster because it mitigates the ocean acidification.”

Since the PWSEDD had its first workshop on the matter in December, they have had three meetings, and now have a pretty good list of about 40 people they would like to invite to participate, Carpenter said.

Plans are to have one meeting each week for the first two weeks of April and then two each week during the next two weeks of April, she said.

Planning must be directed locally and pooling the knowledge of community experts is key to understanding vulnerability at a community level, the PWSEDD said. Several coastal Alaskan communities and organizations, like Homer, Sitka and the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, are already engaged in similar efforts on their own, and offer examples of how to approach adaptation planning, they said.

Commercial fishing is the major contributor to the Prince William Sound economy, with gillnetters, set netters and purse seiner permit holders harvesting over 33 million fish last summer from Prince William Sound and the Copper River District, with an estimated value of over $96 million, revenue that sustains local economies.

Fisheries disaster declarations were made for Prince William Sound pink salmon in 2016, for Chinook and sockeye salmon in 2018, and for all five species of salmon in Prince William Sound and the Copper River District for the 2020 season.

The goal of the PWSEDD and Szymkowiak is to build resilience through effective planning and adaptation and share their framework with other Prince William Sound communities, the PWSEDD said.

Szymkowiak’s work focuses on how people derive value from and make choices about participation in fisheries, and how ecological and management changes may impact that participation. Her previous work on fishing family adaptations in the Gulf of Alaska shed light on the diversity of strategies that fisheries stakeholders have employed in past years to adapt to changes in fisheries using focus groups in various communities. Szymkowiak has also worked with fishing communities to understand how fishing participation provides for community well-being beyond livelihood. She serves on numerous fisheries planning and review bodies where she focuses on improving the integration of human dimensions including the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s social science planning team, the federal council’s Gulf of Alaska groundfish plan team, and the cross-regional Catch Shares Working Group.