A management strategy evaluation of the commercial sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska

Bristol Bay, Alaska, is home to the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, harvesting an average of 25 million fish with an ex-vessel value exceeding US$100 million annually. Daily fishing effort is adaptively managed to achieve stock-specific escapement goals. Traditional methods for defining these goals relied on stock–recruitment analysis; however, this approach often ignores three fundamental sources of uncertainty: estimation error, implementation uncertainty, and time-varying recruitment dynamics. To compare escapement goal alternatives, we conducted a management strategy evaluation that simulated time-varying recruitment across production regimes and replicated the daily in-season management process. Results indicate (i) implementation uncertainty can be reasonably approximated with simple rules reflecting fishery managers’ daily decision process; (ii) despite implementation uncertainty, escapement goals are likely to be realized or exceeded, on average; and (iii) management strategies targeting escapement levels estimated by traditional methods to produce maximum sustainable yield may result in lower catch and greater variability in fishing opportunity compared with a strategy with defining high and low escapement goals that are targeted depending on assessed run size, which may maximize future catch while reducing the frequency of extremely low harvests.

Cunningham et al. 2019.  A management strategy evaluation of the commercial sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 2019, 76(9): 1669-1683,

Population diversity and the portfolio effect in an exploited species

One of the most pervasive themes in ecology is that biological diversity stabilizes ecosystem processes and the services they provide to society, a concept that has become a common argument for biodiversity conservation. Species-rich communities are thought to produce more temporally stable ecosystem services because of the complementary or independent dynamics among species that perform similar ecosystem functions. Such variance dampening within communities is referred to as a portfolio effect and is analogous to the effects of asset diversity on the stability of financial portfolios. In ecology, these arguments have focused on the effects of species diversity on ecosystem stability but have not considered the importance of biologically relevant diversity within individual species. Current rates of population extirpation are probably at least three orders of magnitude higher than species extinction rates, so there is a pressing need to clarify how population and life history diversity affect the performance of individual species in providing important ecosystem services. Here we use five decades of data from sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay, Alaska, to provide the first quantification of portfolio effects that derive from population and life history diversity in an important and heavily exploited species. Variability in annual Bristol Bay salmon returns is 2.2 times lower than it would be if the system consisted of a single homogenous population rather than the several hundred discrete populations it currently consists of. Furthermore, if it were a single homogeneous population, such increased variability would lead to ten times more frequent fisheries closures. Portfolio effects are also evident in watershed food webs, where they stabilize and extend predator access to salmon resources. Our results demonstrate the critical importance of maintaining population diversity for stabilizing ecosystem services and securing the economies and livelihoods that depend on them. The reliability of ecosystem services will erode faster than indicated by species loss alone.

Schindler et al. 2010.  Population diversity and the portfolio effect in an exploited species. Nature.  465: 609-613. doi:10.1038/nature09060