Ecosystem approach to harvesting in the Arctic: Walking the tightrope between exploitation and conservation in the Barents Sea


Projecting the consequences of warming and sea-ice loss for Arctic marine food web and fisheries is challenging due to the intricate relationships between biology and ice. We used StrathE2EPolar, an end-to-end (microbes-to-megafauna) food web model incorporating ice-dependencies to simulate climate-fisheries interactions in the Barents Sea. The model was driven by output from the NEMO-MEDUSA earth system model, assuming RCP 8.5 atmospheric forcing. The Barents Sea was projected to be > 95% ice-free all year-round by the 2040s compared to > 50% in the 2010s, and approximately 2 °C warmer. Fisheries management reference points (FMSY and BMSY) for demersal fish (cod, haddock) were projected to increase by around 6%, indicating higher productivity. However, planktivorous fish (capelin, herring) reference points were projected to decrease by 15%, and upper trophic levels (birds, mammals) were strongly sensitive to planktivorous fish harvesting. The results indicate difficult trade-offs ahead, between harvesting and conservation of ecosystem structure and function.
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