The Alaskan fishing industry supports more than 100,000 jobs and generates more than $5 billion in annual revenue. Fishery-related tourism also brings in $300 million annually.
The research, published online in Progress in Oceanography, finds many of Alaska’s economically valuable marine fisheries are located in waters that are already experiencing ocean acidification, and will see more in the near future.
The term “ocean acidification” describes the process of ocean water becoming more acidic as a result of absorbing nearly a third of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from human sources. This change in ocean chemistry is affecting marine life, particularly the ability of shellfish, corals and small creatures in the early stages of the food chain to build skeletons or shells.
Studies show that red king crab and tanner crab, two important Alaskan fisheries, grow more slowly and don’t survive as well in more acidic waters, NOAA says. Alaska’s coastal waters are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification because of cold water that can absorb more carbon dioxide, and unique ocean circulation patterns, which bring naturally acidic deep ocean waters to the surface.
In addition to carbon pollution harming fisheries, plastic waste causes $13 billion in annual financial damage to marine ecosystems, though the actual cost of plastic waste to the overall environment may be much higher, according to two reports released at a June meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly.