• Bridging expert knowledge and fisheries data to inform assessment and management of rockfishes in the Gulf of Alaska

      Gordon, Jesse; Beaudrau, Anne; Carothers, Courtney; Williams, Benjamin (2021-08)
      Over the past few decades, nearshore rockfishes (Sebastes spp.) have experienced increased pressure from multiple fisheries throughout the Gulf of Alaska. The unique life history traits of rockfishes pose a host of challenges that make them difficult to monitor and vulnerable to overfishing. Rockfishes are economically and culturally important to coastal communities in the Gulf of Alaska. Therefore, the inclusion of fishers' knowledge in rockfish assessment and management will help to address biological goals and meet the needs of a growing fishery. This thesis examines the recent history and current management issues in nearshore rockfish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska through triangulation of expert knowledge, fishery data, and biological surveys. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 43 fishers and agency staff who have long-term knowledge of and experience in rockfish fisheries within the Sitka and Kodiak areas. Chapter One presents a synthesis of changes in commercial and recreational rockfish fisheries since the 1970s, based on datasets from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) and expert knowledge from interviews. Harvest data indicated both increases and decreases in nearshore fishing effort and harvest patterns, depending on the fishery sector, region, and rockfish species. Fishers and agency staff offered a longer-term and contextual understanding of changes in rockfish abundance. Most experts observed an overall decline in pelagic rockfishes near Sitka, AK and more variable patterns of abundance near Kodiak, AK. While many experts were hopeful about future sustainability of rockfish fisheries, others expressed concern about increases in localized fishing pressure, growth of charter fishing, barriers to access in some fisheries, and declines in rockfish biomass. Chapter Two identified institutional pathways and gaps in public engagement with rockfish fisheries management in Alaska. Fishers and agency staff highlighted the value of formal and informal institutions for effective engagement and emphasized the importance of relationship building and trust between fishers and agency staff. Fishers demonstrated stewardship over their fisheries through participation in local to state management processes, establishing norms of sustainability within fishing associations, and by taking personal actions to promote fishery conservation. Experts identified institutional gaps which included transparency issues regarding regulations, underrepresentation of recreational and subsistence harvesters in the Board of Fisheries public process, and communication barriers between the sport and commercial divisions of ADF&G. Our findings highlight the challenges of bringing together disparate data sources and the benefits of including multiple ways of knowing to produce a more complete understanding of dynamic fishery systems.