First-of-its-kind East Coast Climate Change Scenario Planning Initiative
In 2020, a Cape Cod Canal fisherman wrote a letter about the need for federal laws to deal with changing fish stocks and to maintain sustainable levels amid climate change.
In 2019, a researcher concluded that climatic variations and warming waters in the Gulf of Maine contributed to a decline in fishing jobs in New England from 1996 to 2017.
In 2021, a Massachusetts fisheries analyst and consultant said researchers were seeing changes they had never seen before and were trying to determine the exact causation with respect to climate change. Over the years, the analyst said he has seen a change in the distribution, productivity, spawning and mortality of fish species.
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Such concerns are set to be closely examined as part of a new federal initiative that will attract representatives from every coastal state from Maine to Florida to strategically plan for future fisheries management in the face of climate change. The East Coast Climate Change Scenario Planning Initiative is a multi-year effort that will result in the creation of a few probable scenarios that will inform future decision-making by regional fisheries councils.
The councils, established by federal law, develop and implement management plans – such as fishing seasons, quotas and closed areas – for the fishing industry.
Climate change, a growing threat
“Climate change is a growing threat to marine fisheries around the world,” the online advice said. “In the age of climate change, we cannot be exactly sure what conditions we might be facing in 20 years. But one thing is certain: everyone involved in fishing must prepare for a different and unexpected future.
The first public phase of the effort is an upcoming series of three webinars in which representatives from multiple agencies will present climate change scenario planning, discuss ways to get involved, and begin collecting feedback from stakeholders.
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“I don’t think anyone at this point would dispute the things that [stakeholders] see, ”said Deirdre Boelke, an analyst at the New England Fishery Management Council, who is participating in the initiative as one of the seven“ core ”members.
Boelke, who is currently studying Atlantic herring for the local council, said stakeholders have discussed climate change a lot more since she started her work about 20 years ago.
She said some fish populations thrive over a larger area where conditions have changed favorably, while others do the opposite because it is too hot or the temperature changes too drastically.
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Sean Lucey, another senior member and fisheries biologist at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, said he observed an increase in water temperature and a change in species distribution, with some species seen further north or not so far south.
Recommendations for fisheries managers
The initiative aims to be proactive, Boelke said, by identifying and prioritizing the biggest threats and concerns so that fisheries managers can better adapt to changing and increasingly uncertain conditions due to climate change.
“What are the best things to think about now, or the adjustments we can make to the way we govern fishing in this region is kind of the end of the game,” Boelke said, noting that the result of the initiative will not be an action, but recommendations for future action.
Lucey, who has a doctorate in marine science and technology, said that with scenario planning they will take into account different variables or “key aspects” of the system that will change. Two examples are ocean temperature and consumer demand for seafood, shown below.
West Coast Fisheries Councils, along with other natural resource agencies, have already embarked on climate change scenario planning, but an initiative of this magnitude for the East Coast fisheries is the first of its kind, has said Boelke.
The initiative will involve the New England Fishery Management Council, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office.
The councils seek input from all ocean users, whether they are recreational fishermen, coastal communities or charter boat owners.
She said the boards don’t know how long the process will take, but hope it won’t take more than two years given the urgency of the situation.
“We know that the fight against climate change is going to be very difficult,” said Boelke. “I think the stakeholders involved in fishing are used to solving really complex issues and adapting. I hope this similar space that they are used to working in will help translate that and resolve what seems very complex, difficult things we are faced with. “
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Boelke acknowledged that the virtual forum for this discussion may not be ideal for some stakeholders, such as commercial fishermen. The pandemic continues to preclude some in-person meetings for security reasons, but she said it was their hope to have some in-person meetings while others remain at bay given the geographic scope of the initiative.
Lucey said he was excited about the initiative and called it a great opportunity to collaborate coast-wide with stakeholders and fellow experts.
“I think one of the things that we kind of forget about is this knowledge about the water and I think it will be important to have that first hand in the process early on,” said Lucey.
The councils will hold three virtual meetings: August 30 from 4 pm to 5:30 pm; September 1 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and September 2 from 10 am to 11:30 am All webinars will have the same presentation, so it is not necessary to attend more than one. Prior registration is strongly encouraged. To register, visit mafmc.org/climate-change-scenario-planning. A questionnaire will also be posted on the website for those who cannot attend the webinars or wish to provide more detailed comments. It will be available for about a month.
Standard-Times reporter Anastasia E. Lennon can be reached at [email protected] You can follow her on Twitter at @ aelennon1. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.