Opinions

OPINION: What lessons can Alaska learn – and share – on Arctic fisheries?

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Although focus is increasingly placed on sustainability policies and blue economy models among Arctic nations, the systematization of structured transnational collaboration in the circumpolar north has been underdeveloped. Over the past three years, as one of its objectives, the AlaskaNor project has aimed to identify the economic and social effects of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors in Alaska and North Norway in a comparative context and make this knowledge available for relevant stakeholders and decision-makers.

Through a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the status quo, challenges and opportunities of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors in both Arctic regions, the project demonstrated that both Alaska and North Norway are strong frontiers in fisheries and aquaculture production, with outstanding economic performance on the global market. The project’s assessment aimed at helping both regions to develop platforms and networks for further interaction while achieving sustainable and diversified economies.

Knowledge exchange

With salmon production being an invaluable source of income and employment in both regions, there is potential for Alaska and North Norway to learn from each other’s practices, despite salmon industries being carried out in a fundamentally different manner. While finfish farming is forbidden by Alaska law, Alaska’s successful development of hatcheries and the management of salmon stocks could offer sustainability lessons to Norwegian businesses. In turn, North Norway’s highly profitable aquaculture could offer successful strategies for reaching and maintaining new markets. Groundfish fisheries management could also benefit from knowledge and best practice exchange, given that both regions are currently exposed to the impacts of climate change, including diminishing Arctic sea ice, ocean acidification and higher sea surface temperatures, all of which affect groundfish habitation, nutrition and migration patterns.

Community engagement

As social development in both regions is characterized by generally growing, often highly innovative Arctic cities and thinning-out rural areas that face demographic and resource challenges, best practice exchange has potential at a societal level too. Alaska’s community-based fisheries, such as the Tamgas Creek Hatchery, and initiatives such as the Community Development Quota or the Local Fish Fund program of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, aiming to protect and support local fishing businesses and revitalize fishing communities, could inspire similar approaches in North Norway. Meanwhile, the established management regime of the red king crab in Finnmark could serve as an example for maintenance of a small-scale fishery for the benefit of the local communities, while preventing ecological impacts on the native ecosystem, with reported increased appeal and value of the end product.

Science and education

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Over the past decades, academic and research partnerships have already contributed to scientific progress related to fisheries and aquaculture and should remain at the top of both states’ scientific agendas. Increased cooperation between academic organizations focusing on living resource management research such as the University of Fairbanks, UIT - The Arctic University of Norway, or the High North Research Centre for Climate and the Environment (The Fram Centre) should be fostered, prompting interdisciplinarity, and increasing opportunities for meaningful impact on policy making, as well as finding solutions to common challenges.

Lessons of governance

Knowledge exchange and intensified collaboration could gradually pave the road for fundamental reforms in governance patterns and systemic changes. Fisheries management in Alaska is grounded on close cooperation between federal and state authorities, while in Norway there is no management level below the national. There have been occasional calls for decentralization and regionalization of Norwegian fisheries management over the years, but national authorities have persistently opposed this. The state of Alaska has established jurisdiction and enjoys the royalties of resource development up to 3 nautical miles offshore, prioritizing the domestic needs of the state. Delegating decision-making power to local government bodies could also be inspiring for Norway, since several issues with the Norwegian fisheries policy derive from the centralization of fisheries governance.

Toward a common future

Understanding that achieving such synergies is a long path, an improved exchange of knowledge and cooperation between relevant institutions and stakeholders could mark a turn towards a new blue strategy. Alaska and North Norway are regions of paramount importance for the Arctic and have extensive knowledge and experience related to marine living resource management, business, science, as well as societal and environmental awareness.

As recently reported, plans for increased cooperation between U.S. (Alaska) and Norwegian Army units are already underway. As long-changing ocean conditions continue to impact Arctic fisheries and aquaculture, shouldn’t marine living resource management also be subject to a cross-border interplay?

Andreas Raspotnik is a senior researcher with High North Centre. Apostolos Tsiouvalas is a scholarship holder at UIT - the Arctic University of Norway. Gergana Stoeva is a research assistant at The Arctic Institute. Ian Laing is executive director at Institute of the North.

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