Recommendations of the Organizing Committee
Following the workshop, the Organizing Committee met to review issues raised at the forum and to plan further coordination of ecosystem research in the Bering Sea. The Committee is pleased to submit the following recommendations to the three major agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of the Interior, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
1. Coordination of Field Sampling Plans
The Committee discussed a 3-step process to facilitate the coordination of agency research projects and cross-placement of scientific personnel on field sampling programs: (i) conduct a research coordination meeting to discuss field plans early each year, (ii) develop an interactive web-site to share research plans, and (iii) annually compile and publish agency research plans in a compendium. The intent of this process is to integrate the current work of multiple agencies, reduce redundancies, and maximize the research benefit of existing agency resources.
The Committee recommends that a web-site be used initially to facilitate coordination. Such a web-site can be integrated with the metadatabase project (that is described below) to build a 'living document' on the World Wide Web for sharing information on research planning on a continuing basis. The Committee also recommends that NOAA be designated the leader to undertake the project.
2. Sharing of Data-Bases
The Committee agrees that the most efficient means of sharing data is to develop a metadatabase on the World Wide Web. This project has already been initiated by NOAA (by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center and the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory) and has been in operation for several months. The Committee agrees that there is no need to initiate another database project. The database already resides in a web-site (http-.//www.pmel.noaa. gov/bering/mdb/) that is maintained by NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Lab.
The Committee recommends that work continue on development of NOAA's Bering Sea Ecosystem Biophysical Metadatabase project and that all research projects link their existing databases into it. The Committee also recommends that NOAA remain the lead agency to facilitate the coordination process and maintain the metadatabase.
3. Traditional Local Knowledge
Presentations were made by representatives of coastal indigenous people of Alaska. One of the more challenging aspects of finding ways to better understand the Bering Sea ecosystem is to reconcile the apparent dichotomy of western scientific disciplines with traditional knowledge TK) of indigenous people. Another complication of integrating TK into ecosystem research and management is the notion that such information is regarded as sacred and proprietary to indigenous people.
In addition to TK, the Committee recognizes that efforts are underway by the Mineral Management Service and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to compile local knowledge of marine resource events that reflect unusual environmental conditions. Such information would contribute additional observations for ecosystem studies.
The Committee recognizes that collaboration between western science and traditional knowledge must continue. Various agencies have already invested significant resources into the integration of TK into its process through collaboration between indigenous people and agency researchers/managers, Consideration should also be given to empower various coastal communities to carry out environmental monitoring projects as a component and/or adjunct of a Bering Sea Ecosystem Science Plan.
4. Bering Sea Ecosystem Science Plan
Congress has enacted legislation that establishes an "Environmental Improvement and Restoration Fund (a.k.a. Dinkum-Sands)" to carry out marine research in the North Pacific. Such funds shall be used by the Secretary of Commerce to provide grants to Federal, State, private or foreign organizations or individuals to conduct research activities on or relating to fisheries or marine ecosystems in the North Pacific Ocean, Bering Sea, and the western Arctic Ocean. The legislation also calls for the creation of a North Pacific Research Board, whose purpose is to review and recommend research priorities and grant requests for Secretarial approval.
The Committee recommends that a Core/Planning Group be identified from organizations engaged in marine research and management off Alaska to begin development of an integrated Bering Sea Ecosystem Science Plan. The Group should also recommend an administrative process for soliciting and reviewing proposals supporting the objectives of the science plan.