Warming Waters a Hot Topic in 2014

Cobia are typically found in warmer waters, but anglers have recently been catching them in New England. Photo: NOAA

The weather may be cold but discussion of climate change and its effects on fishing keeps heating up.

Later this month a conference organized by the National Council for Science and the Environment will feature a workshop titled “Managing Marine Fisheries in a Changing Climate.

“With a changing climate and changing oceans, the fisheries that sustain us now may not be the same fisheries that sustain us in the future,” the workshop’s organizers write. Indeed, there is already ample evidence that fish populations are shifting in response to ocean warming, and the Northeast U.S. has seen especially acute effects as sea surface temperatures reached record highs last year.

Workshop participants will explore: tools to “effectively maintain living marine resources in the face of a changing climate”; partnerships among scientists, fishermen and managers; and ways to “to effectively evolve fisheries (i.e. the human component) in the face of a changing climate.”

In March the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council will host a two-day workshop for East Coast fishery managers and scientists to discuss the “challenging questions regarding the capacity of our current fisheries governance framework” to respond to the changes a warming ocean will bring.

And in this month’s issue of Saltwater Sportsman magazine, former New England Fishery Management Council chairman Rip Cunningham reflects on the things we can be doing to help fish adapt to a changing climate.

“A healthy ecosystem has the ability to deal with environmental regime changes – such as temperature change, salinity or carbon uptake – better than a highly impacted one,” Cunningham writes. “A sick patient is more susceptible than a healthy one, and that goes for ecosystems as well.”

Cunningham is right on the mark. We can make our coastal ecosystems more resilient by reducing the stress from overfishing, protecting more marine habitat, and moving toward ecosystem-based fishery management in order to respond more nimbly to changes in the ocean environment. And, as Cunningham notes, we should also be leaving more of the small prey species in the water: “Restoring elements of the forage base is essential to restoring populations of fish that recreational anglers like to catch.”

Cunningham closes his column musing about someday looking out on the Gulf of Maine from his porch and seeing the tell-tale roll of a tarpon at the surface. He’s joking, but… with anglers already hooking cobia in the Narragansett and a sailfish in the Cape Cod Canal, who knows?


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