Seasonal Forecasts, Fisheries Management, and the Fish You Eat

JISAO receives NOAA grant for seasonal ocean forecasts to inform fisheries management in the Bering Sea

October 23, 2017

The Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) at the University of Washington (UW) received a $500,000 grant to lead a collaborative effort with NOAA Research and NOAA Fisheries to explore the use of nine-month forecasts of ocean conditions in the Bering Sea to inform fisheries management and planning.

Crab fishing in the Bering SeaThe fisheries off Alaska support a multi-billion industry, with an estimated 40% of total landings in the US coming from the Bering Sea shelf. This includes Pacific cod, walleye pollock, King and Snow crab, and more. The three-year grant from NOAA Research’s Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) Program and the NOAA Fisheries Office of Science and Technology will allow researchers to assess and improve the skill of an existing state-of-the-art ocean forecasting system for the region. The system is used especially to develop seasonal outlooks of the extent of cold deep waters (the “cold pool”) on the continental shelf, as well as sea ice cover and timing. The spatial distribution and population size of over 20 commercially important fishes, and marine mammals are affected by these oceanic conditions in the Bering Sea.

The cold pool and sea ice cover drive much of the seasonal dynamics on the Bering Sea shelf, contracting and expanding in an annual northward-southward motion where spring and fall follow this ocean beat. Like a blanket, sea ice protects the waters underneath from winds and storms while working as a moving platform for marine mammals to walk on and a substrate for tiny ice algae and crustaceans (zooplankton). At the bottom of the sea, cold waters impose temporal moving boundaries, pushing fish averse to water colder than 2 degrees Celsius towards the outer shelf and enabling those cold water fish to move south from northern areas. Cold temperatures can also delay spawning, reproduction cycles, and migrations for crabs, fish, seabirds, and marine mammals.

Information on these and other ocean conditions nine months in advance, will allow their inclusion in a suite of new generation predictive models for multi-species stock assessments, fish and crab distribution and recruitment, bridging the current gap between the annual management cycle and longer term (multidecadal) projections. The seasonal forecasts will also inform planning activities such as research and subsistence harvest by providing the public and communities with seasonal outlooks.

Since 2014 nine-month forecasts have been provided annually to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC), and contribute to the implementation of ecosystem based fisheries management in Alaska. Simulation experiments conducted under the new project will include extensive nine-month re-forecasts of past years, which will be compared with past observations. These simulations will forecast conditions from the spring and fall of each year, spanning multiple past decades.

For stakeholders, direct forecast output indices (e.g. a Cold Pool Index) will be delivered as part of the Alaska Marine Ecosystem Considerations website.

Collaborators on the project, lead by Kerim Aydin from NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service, include JISAO researchers Al Hermann, Ivonne Ortiz, Wei Cheng and Kelly Kearney, as well as Phyllis Stabeno (NOAA/PMEL) and Mike Alexander (NOAA/ESRL). Throughout the duration of the project, the research team will participate in the NOAA MAPP Program’s new Marine Prediction Task Force (MPTF). The MPTF will provide an opportunity for the team to collaborate with other MAPP-funded researchers working on related projects to rapidly advance project goals and objectives.

NOAA strives to increase the resilience of communities to changing climate and ocean conditions through improved products and services that provide reliable climate-related information. Investing in UW’s research to assess the use of seasonal ocean forecasts to inform fisheries management directly supports NOAA’s mission. 

For more information contact Kerim Aydin at or Al Hermann at