Winter in Unalaska by Sam Zmolek
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Bering Sea

  • The ice-filled caldera of Takawangha, which rises 4,753 feet out of the Bering Sea, is in the far western Aleutians, about 55 miles west of Adak. The volcano has been showing signs of unrest since Nov. 18.
  • The recent closure of the Bering Sea snow crab and Bristol Bay red king crab fisheries has some of Western Alaska’s coastal towns taking a hard look at their futures, and one small island is bracing for a huge hit. The Pribilof Island of St. Paul runs on snow crab — also known as opilio crab. The community’s Trident Seafoods is one of the largest crab processing plants in the world. So when fisheries management officials announced the species “overfished” and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shut down snow crab for the first time in the fishery’s history in October, City Manager Phillip Zavadil knew the community needed to act fast. “We're trying to get creative and have people understand that this is going to happen more and more, and that we need to address it,” Zavadil said. “We can do something now, instead of waiting for next year, when we don't have any funding or we can't provide services.”
  • The Governor requested expedited disaster designations to jumpstart the process of sending money to fishermen in both the 2022 Bering Sea snow crab and Bristol Bay red king crab fisheries, citing the complete closure of both this season.Rep. Mary Peltola has also requested emergency relief funding in a letter addressed to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chair of the House Appropriations Committee.The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced earlier this month that the Bering Sea snow crab fishery will not open for the first time in its history.
  • Bering Sea snow crab will close for the first time in the fishery’s history. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced Monday afternoon that snow crab — also known as opilio crab — and Bristol Bay red king crab would not open for the upcoming fall and winter fishing seasons. Miranda Westphal, an area management biologist for ADF&G, said stocks are just too low to justify opening either fishery. “All of our crab stocks in the Bering Sea have seen declines the last few years,” Westphal said. “[For] red king crab, we've been seeing declines for a little over a decade now. We just see very little recruitment coming into the population — not a lot of crab maturing into a fishable size. And so we're just seeing more of that this year.”
  • The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kimball calls Honolulu home, but recently it’s seen a lot of action in the Aleutians. Just last month while on a routine patrol, the vessel encountered a group of Russian and Chinese warships traveling together through the Bering Sea. The Kimball’s commander, Capt. Thomas D’Arcy, recalled the encounter during a port call in Unalaska last weekend.D’Arcy didn’t comment on the strategic implications of the foreign warships the Kimball encountered last month. But he said the cutter is staged for just about anything and will continue monitoring the area for foreign military activity.
  • A mid-September storm caused major damage in parts of Western Alaska. In Unalaska though, it brought strangely warm temperatures and a warning sign about future storm activity in the region. Wreckage from the historic storm spans about 1,000 miles of coastline from the Lower Kuskokwim area, up north to the Norton Sound region. Flooding and strong winds caused power outages, road and home damage and destroyed subsistence harvests and the means to replace those. While Unalaska was preparing for similar conditions and possible devastation, locals got lucky as the storm passed further west, near Shemya Island. Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said the high seas and strong winds were the remnants of Typhoon Merbok. And while they missed the Eastern Aleutians, they did push subtropical air into the region.
  • A Coast Guard crew encountered a Chinese guided missile cruiser in the Bering Sea last week. The Coast Guard Cutter Kimball was on a routine patrol on Sept. 19, when the vessel encountered the Renhai CG 101 about 75 miles north of Kiska Island, in the Western Aleutians, according to a Coast Guard statement Monday morning. The statement said the Coast Guard crew identified two more Chinese naval vessels and four Russian naval vessels, including a Russian Federation Navy destroyer.
  • Salmon stocks from up and down the Pacific coast congregate in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea to feed. That’s also where trawlers go to harvest millions of pounds of pollock and other groundfish. And those trawlers often accidentally scoop up salmon and other fish in their nets, too — a problem known as bycatch. Scientists with NOAA Fisheries, which oversees federal fisheries in those waters, want to understand where the bycatch is coming from — and where those fish would return to — so that they can understand the impacts of bycatch on specific stocks. That’s especially true for stocks in western Alaska, an area of the state that is seeing dismal salmon returns.
  • A group of international researchers is out in the Bering Sea this summer exploring a world we humans don’t know much about—the deep ocean. Scientists from 12 countries are conducting research on the AleutBio expedition, an initiative to map deep sea biodiversity in the eastern Bering Sea and the Aleutian Trench.
  • How cold is the water in the Bering Sea? That’s what a group of researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wants to know. NOAA is currently out in the Aleutian Islands running their annual Eastern Bering Sea Bottom Trawl Survey. They've been running annual surveys since the 1970s, mainly to collect data on the distribution and abundance of bottom-dwelling species like crab and groundfish. But this year they’re paying special attention to the cold pool—a section of bottom water that stays cold through the summer. It affects everything from when fish spawn to what part of the ocean they live in.