Since the 1990s, the population of northern fur seals in the eastern Bering Sea has declined by more than half, with no scientific consensus as to what is causing the decline. One important knowledge gap is the role of the availability of food, in particular walleye pollock. Climate change projections indicate a significant reduction in recruitment—the amount of new pollock entering the population—with unknown implications for the fur seal population. This situation has raised interest among managers in gaining a better understanding of the relationships between northern fur seals, pollock, and climate change.
This project, led by Dr. Jeremy Sterling of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, will develop a model to characterize the dietary needs of fur seals, integrate this model with existing data and models for pollock, and forecast how future scenarios for climate change and fishing might affect both species. The results will provide guidance for incorporating feedbacks between pollock and fur seals into stock assessments. In addition, they will coordinate the research and share results with NOAA Fisheries stock assessment scientists, managers, and stakeholders to help inform decisions about fishery management and fur seal conservation.