New England Fisheries

Climate Change and the Future of New England’s Fisheries

The Island Institute has released its final report on this summer's "Climate of Change" workshop.

Following a successful two-day workshop held this summer, Maine’s Island Institute has released a new report, A Climate of Change: Climate Change and New England Fisheries, that gathers observations on the effects of climate change on local fisheries and makes management recommendations for mitigating and adapting to these impacts.

The report recognizes that the Gulf of Maine’s marine landscape is already changing in response to rising temperatures, which reached record highs in 2012 and dropped only slightly last year:

The ocean is warmer and the behavior of fish and lobster is changing, most notably the timing of the lobster molt. New species are being caught in nets and traps, some traditional species are no longer present, and other species are showing up at different times.

Symposium participants say that climate change is happening faster than they thought, resulting in an increased urgency to act. What’s more, due to its unique geography and ecology and its fisheries’ reliance on a small number of commercially important species, New England may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change:

The reliance on stocks that are at the southern end of their range, coupled with steep temperature gradients, means New England fishermen will continue to experience the impacts of ecosystem shifts as the climate changes. The Gulf of Maine is inherently a low diversity system. With biodiversity so important for economic diversity, the effects of mismanagement and climate change on our commercially important species are felt acutely in this region.

In response to this changing marine ecosystem, the Island Institute organized its symposium and invited local marine scientists, fishermen, policymakers, and other ocean users to talk about current observations and potential responses to climate change. Topics ranged from ocean acidification to the importance of fish habitat to the role of electronic monitoring in incorporating fishing industry data into assessments. We wrote about some of those discussions in this post, and presentations from the symposium can be found here.

As a result of this dialogue, the Island Institute’s report identifies three primary recommendations for managing fisheries in a changing climate:

  • Develop ecosystem-based management approaches. This means fisheries managers should take measures to incorporate environmental change and ecosystem interactions into their assessments and decisions, including developing new indicators of change to monitor over time. The reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act provides a great opportunity to incorporate this type of management on a national level.
  • Develop communication tools. The effects of climate change aren’t just limited to one region, so adapting effectively will require fisheries managers, scientists, and fishermen to share information across regions and with the public.
  • Examine methods to access the resource. The distribution of many species of marine life is changing rapidly. Fisheries managers will have to be flexible and monitor catch carefully as fisheries emerge in new areas to ensure ecosystem health.

The effects of climate change on our fisheries are still uncertain, and adapting won’t be easy. Cooperation between fishermen, policymakers, and scientists will be a crucial part of developing strategies to protect ecosystems and fisheries, and conversations like these are a great place to start.


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