New economic report highlights case for protecting SE coastal ecosystems

SeaBank research contends that healthy ecosystems play a big role in successful tourism

A new report focusing on impacts of climate change on Southeast Alaska notes that commercial fishing and seafood processing support over 10,000 jobs and bolsters related industries, providing $1 billion in annual economic impact to the region. However, the report warns that it needs protections to sustain the region in the future.

“The fisheries, forests, waterways, and wildlife will support our communities for generations provided we safeguard ecosystem health,” said Linda Behnken, founder of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT), which released its fourth annual SeaBank Report.

The report quantifies the economic value of goods, services and ecological function generated by Southeast Alaska’s natural resources, and the risks of climate change, industrial logging and industrial trawl fishery bycatch (the take of untargeted species of fish).

The term “SeaBank,” coined by ASFT, refers to Southeast Alaska’s diverse coastland, extending 500 miles from Metlakatla to Yakutat. The annual report measures the capital that this bank offers, and quantifies the value generated for local, national and global beneficiaries.

The report, released on Tuesday, may be accessed online at

Highlights of the report include:

  • Physical and biological diversities of SeaBank’s salmon-producing watersheds, including one of the two largest remaining productive salmon systems in the world
  • The significance of SeaBank’s coastal temperate rainforest and its irreplaceable carbon sink
  • Three-fourths of all fish caught in Southeast Alaska use the region’s estuaries in some part of their life cycle
  • Commercial fishing and seafood processing support thousands of jobs and the visitor products industry, which add up to $1 billion in annual economic impact
  • Warming temperatures coming with climate change will increase frequency and intensity of extreme weather events
  • Seagrass meadows and kelp forests in particular are highly vulnerable ecosystems with low ability to relocate and are highly sensitive to warming oceans, marine heat waves and acidification
  • Low marine productivity is becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change
  • Federally managed trawl fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea are killing migratory, highly valued fish, including halibut, sablefish and Chinook salmon who would otherwise migrate through the areas, mature, inhabit and/or spawn in Southeast Alaska waters

The report notes that coastal areas are vulnerable ecosystems subject to rapid environmental change through developments that degrade high-value habitats such as coastal forests, estuaries and coral reefs.

“This threat heightens the need to maintain the SeaBank’s natural capital, in the face of a decline in global capacity to provide ecosystem services due to habitat conversion for industrial uses,” the report said. “Global biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate. Biodiversity loss and habitat degradation will lead to long-term interruption in the supply of otherwise self-perpetuating natural capital vital to present and future generations. Climate change and an increasing human population intensify this risk.”

The report noted that coastal tourism, one of the fastest-growing global economic sectors, relies on ecosystem services provided by scenery and opportunities for outdoor adventure and wildlife viewing.

Given the natural capital of the SeaBank, visitors to Southeast Alaska can experience glaciers, salmon streams, expansive scenery, marine mammals, bears and more, the report said. Due to the strong bond between coastal communities and the sea, heightened protection from industrial development is warranted for its fish, wildlife and habitats, the report advised.

On timber issues, the report noted the particular value of over nine million forested acres of Tongass National Forest, including some five million acres of old-growth forest, which stores 2.7 billion metric tons of carbon in aboveground biomass and soils – 20 % of total carbon for the entire national forest system and more than any other national forest within the United States.

“It is essential to retain these forests to avoid adding their carbon to global greenhouse gas emissions, and so they can continue drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere,” the report said.

The report also added new information on the long term and increasing threat to SeaBank marine assets from industrial trawl fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. The Sustainable Fisheries Act, enacted by Congress in 1996, aimed to address concerns about bycatch increases and impacts of bycatch on other fisheries, particularly by the North Pacific trawl industry.

The report said that to date the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and NPFMC have failed to adequately address impacts of industrial trawl bycatch on fishing communities in Southeast Alaska and statewide, and as a result many marketable high-value species such as sablefish, halibut and Chinook salmon are being killed. This bycatch includes a high proportion of juvenile fish, which reduces future yields for sport, subsistence and commercial fishermen who would otherwise harvest these bycaught fish once mature, the report said.