Bottom trawl surveys in the northern Bering Sea indicate recent shifts in the distribution of marine species
The climate regime in the eastern Bering Sea has recently been dominated by a pattern of multi-year stanzas, in which several successive years of minimal sea-ice formation and warm summer temperatures (e.g., 2002–2005, 2014–2017) alternate with several years of relatively extensive sea-ice formation and cold summer temperatures (e.g., 2006–2013). This emerging climate pattern may be forcing long-term changes in the spatial distributions of the Bering Sea’s marine fauna. The National Marine Fisheries Service’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center recently conducted two bottom trawl surveys covering the entire Bering Sea shelf from the Alaska Peninsula to the Bering Strait. The first, in the summer of 2010, was conducted during a cold year when the majority of the continental shelf was covered by a pool of cold (< 2 °C) water. The second, in the summer of 2017, was during a warmer year with water temperatures above the long-term survey mean. These two surveys recorded significantly different spatial distributions for populations of several commercially important fish species, including walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus), Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus), and several flatfish species, as well as jellyfishes. Population shifts included latitudinal displacement as well as variable recruitment success. The large-scale distributional shifts reported here for high-biomass species raise questions about long-term ecosystem impacts, and highlight the need for continued monitoring. They also raise questions about our management strategies for these and other species in Alaska’s large marine ecosystems.
KeywordsCold pool Climate shift Arctic Biogeography
We thank the multitude of scientists and vessel crew that participated in the EBS and NBS bottom trawl surveys of 2010 and 2017 on the FV Aldebaran, FV Alaska Knight, and FV Vesteraalen. We also thank S. Kotwicki, D. Nichol, and S. Zador for reviewing earlier drafts of the manuscript. This research was supported in part by the NOAA Fisheries Loss of Sea Ice (LOSI) initiative. We thank the NMFS Office of Science and Technology for their support. The recommendations and general content presented in this paper do not necessarily represent the views or official position of the Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
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Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Human and animal rights
All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.
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