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Understanding Climate Vulnerability: Planning for Resiliency in Cordova's Fishing Economy

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Graphic adapted from Dr. Szymkowiak's 'Fisheries Adaptation Planning' presentation.

Fishing communities in the Gulf of Alaska are beginning to face climate change impacts, yet adaptation planning in the face of uncertainty is especially challenging and there is little guidance for how communities can plan for resilience. With the help of Dr. Marysia Szymkowiak of NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, PWSEDD is looking for partne

rs to help assess the climate vulnerabilities of Prince William Sound’s fisheries and plan for adaptation. This effort is currently focusing on Cordova, with the intent to formulate the adaptation planning process for extension to other PWS communities. This work is part of the Gulf of Alaska Integrated Modeling Project that NOAA is doing to identify factors affecting present and future ecosystem-level productivity and to assess the economic and social impacts on our fishing communities.

We don’t have a comprehensive climate action plan in place for Alaska, nor can a single framework address the unique and wide-ranging vulnerabilities of every fishing community. Planning must be directed locally, and pooling the knowledge of community experts is key to understanding vulnerability at a community level. Several coastal Alaskan communities and organizations, like Homer, Sitka, and the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, have already begun to undergo this effort on their own and offer examples of how to approach adaptation planning.

Commercial fishing is the backbone of Prince William Sound’s economy. Last summer, 686 gillnet, set net, and purse seine permit holders harvested over 33 million fish from Prince William Sound and the Copper River District’s waters, with an estimated value of over $96 million. This revenue supports more than just the livelihoods of fishermen and their families – it sustains our local economies, driving the growth of local business revenue and creating broad employment opportunities.

Prince William Sound’s fisheries are globally renowned for their sustainable management practices, but changing ocean and climate conditions increasingly pose new challenges to fishermen, processors and fisheries managers. Since the region’s first ever fisheries disaster determination in 2016, Prince William Sound has seen sudden and unexpected drastic declines in fishery stock biomass become increasingly frequent. Fisheries disasters declarations were made for PWS pink salmon in 2016, PWS chinook and sockeye salmon in 2018, and for all five species of salmon, chinook, sockeye, coho, chum, and pink, in both PWS and the Copper River District for the 2020 season.

Assessing vulnerability is the first step in climate adaptation planning. Our ultimate goal is resilience: the capacity to prevent, withstand, respond to, and recover from disruptions. We can achieve resilience through adaptation, by adjusting to our changing environment to minimize negative effects and maximize opportunities. Through an exploratory effort with community members, PWSEDD and Dr. Szymkowiak aim to formally examine the vulnerabilities specific to Cordova, build resilience through effective planning and adaptation, and extend our framework to other communities in PWS and coastal Alaska.

We want to hear from Cordovans across the fishing industry about the climate change conversations in your organization, where you’re already seeing effects on the fisheries, and what tools you need to adapt to these new challenges. By working together, we can build adaptive capacity and promote the long-term sustainability of Cordova’s driving industry and community. If you’re interested in learning more about this effort, participating in the process, or receiving updates, please reach out to us at


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