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Strong connections, loose coupling: the influence of the Bering Sea ecosystem on commercial fisheries and subsistence harvests in Alaska

Alan C Haynie, Resource Ecology and Fisheries Management Division, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Henry P Huntington, Eagle River, Alaska


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Human-environment connections are the subject of much study, and the details of those connections are crucial factors in effective environmental management. In a large, interdisciplinary study of the eastern Bering Sea ecosystem involving disciplines from physical oceanography to anthropology, one of the research teams examined commercial fisheries and another looked at subsistence harvests by Alaska Natives. Commercial fisheries and subsistence harvests are extensive, demonstrating strong connections between the ecosystem and the humans who use it. At the same time, however, both research teams concluded that the influence of ecosystem conditions on the outcomes of human activities was weaker than anticipated. Likely explanations of this apparently loose coupling include the ability of fishers and hunters to adjust to variable conditions, and the role of social systems and management in moderating the direct effects of changes in the ecosystem. We propose a new conceptual model for future studies that incorporates a greater range of social factors and their dynamics, in addition to similarly detailed examinations of the ecosystem itself.

Key words

Bering Sea; commercial fisheries; ecosystem studies; human-environment connections; subsistence

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087