Mary Beth Decker
Alaska fisheries and the communities they provide are intimately tied to the ecosystem of the Bering Sea. Jellyfish are a highly variable component of this ecosystem that has not yet been studied directly in the relation to fishing. This comes despite research around the world showing that jellyfish can divert production away from fish, damage fishing gear, and sting fishermen. This study seeks to understand the impacts of jellyfish on Bering Sea fisheries using GIS analysis of fishery observer data, as well as a combination of surveys and interviews of Alaska fishermen, scientists, and managers. I found that Bering Sea jellyfish, primarily Chrysaora melanaster, have been caught as fishing bycatch throughout the Bering Sea’s continental shelf for decades. Most fishermen view them as a minor nuisance with a painful sting, though inshore pollock fisheries can incur significant economic repercussions if they do not take action to avoid jellyfish bycatch. While jellyfish pose no serious threat to the Bering Sea fishing economy, I argue that fisheries can only benefit from an increased understanding of their interactions with both the ecosystem and with fishermen themselves.