Friday, March 23, 2018
Fishing in the Arctic?

Fishing in the Arctic?

Dispatches from the Arctic

Editor’s note: This is the fourth dispatch from Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program, who is leading a team of NOAA scientists on a research cruise in the Arctic. 

As the Arctic warms twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the range and distribution of at least some fish stocks found in places like the Bering Sea will likely extend northward. That could bring some big changes to the region. More than 60 percent of all seafood caught in the United States comes from the waters off Alaska and generates billions of dollars in revenue each year. 

As previously ice-covered areas of the Arctic become seasonally ice-free, there will be pressure to expand US fishing north of the Bering Strait. That can’t happen under the Arctic Management Plan, established in 2009, which prohibits commercial fishing until scientists and fisheries managers understand what’s going on with the ecosystem. 

Arctic marine life

Arctic marine life

NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Fellow Emily Chandler picks through a zooplankton sample to identify different species. Credit: NOAA, Jeremy Mathis

A number of scientists on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy research cruise I’m on are studying many aspects of the environment that could impact potential fishing in the Arctic. Thousands of water samples are being collected in order to measure the amount of nutrients making their way up from the Pacific Ocean into the Arctic. Like fertilizer for a garden, these nutrients allow plankton, or tiny ocean plants, to grow, forming the base of the Arctic food web.  

On the back deck of the Healy, Morgan Busby, a research fisheries biologist for NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center, is deploying nets that collect tiny fish to determine what species are grazing on the copious amounts of plankton produced each year. The species, size, and location of the fish are one of the best indicators we have for how the ecosystem is changing.  

Over the last two decades, as temperatures have warmed and sea ice has retreated, the Arctic Ocean has been getting more productive, which means there could be more food for fish to eat. However, not everything is trending in a positive direction. While higher levels of plankton create conditions that are more conducive for harvestable fisheries, ocean acidification is rapidly progressing in the Arctic. 

Sampling Arctic water

Sampling Arctic water

NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Fellow Shelby Brunner filters a nutrient sample from the Arctic Ocean. credit: NOAA, Jeremy Mathis

Jessica Cross, Ph.D., from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, has been studying ocean acidification and has discovered some alarming trends. “We see that the entire Arctic Ocean is going to slip below some key thresholds over the next few decades when it comes to ocean acidification and that could really impact some of the species that are just starting to get a foothold in the Arctic,” Jessica explained.  

With all the changes underway, it is critical to use the Distributed Biological Observatory, an array of observational buoys, unmanned systems and other tools in the Arctic, to monitor changing ecosystems. The array will provide information to help assess if and when a viable commercial fishery could ever be established in the Arctic.

For more information, please contact Theo Stein, NOAA Communications, at 303-497-6288 or



Most Popular In Depth

GFDL Internships Support NOAA, Community Diversity Efforts

GFDL Internships Support NOAA, Community Diversity Efforts Read more

This summer, NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) hosted 10 interns, ranging from a high school senior to graduate students well on their way to their Ph.D. degrees. Each intern conducted research relevant to GFDL’s climate-science mission, and most presented their findings at GFDL and at their home institutions.

Small Mussels with Big Effects: Invasive Quagga Mussels Eat Away at...

Small Mussels with Big Effects: Invasive Quagga Mussels Eat Away at... Read more

Since hitching unsolicited rides in boat ballast water in the late 1980s, invasive quagga mussels (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis), which are native to Ukraine, have caused massive changes to the ecology of the Great Lakes.  These invasive mussels have also taken a toll on the Great Lakes recreational and commercial fisheries, which are valued at $4-7 million annually.

Texas Sea Grant researchers help beach visitors avoid the grip of rip...

Texas Sea Grant researchers help beach visitors avoid the grip of rip... Read more

Dr. Chris Houser was studying rip current development on a beach in Florida when he noticed something curious: many beachgoers were spreading their beach blankets on the sand directly in front of an active rip current and swimming in the rip channel.

Never Missing an Opportunity, Ship of Opportunity That Is, to Collect...

Never Missing an Opportunity, Ship of Opportunity That Is, to Collect... Read more

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words carbon dioxide? Is it the ocean? In this day and age, it should be. The ocean absorbs about one fourth of the extra carbon dioxide in the air that is released through human activity, according to a researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Clearing up a cloudy view of phytoplankton's role in the climate system

Clearing up a cloudy view of phytoplankton's role in the climate system Read more

Phytoplankton - tiny plant-like organisms drifting through the great, vast ocean - are barely visible to the naked eye, and some are visible only through a microscope. Yet, when they are thriving, it is possible to see them from as far away as space. Their location is marked by swirling patterns of bright blues and greens that give the ocean a slick, marbled appearance, like oil on water.

Research Videos

Oceanic & Atmospheric Research Headquarters

1315 East-West Highway | Silver Spring, MD 20910 | 301-713-2458