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New England's Groundfish in a Changing Climate

Hotter Waters, Bolder Research, Better Fisheries Future

Waters off the Northeastern United States are among the fastest warming and most studied in the world’s ocean. Both abrupt and subtle changes caused by warming are evident in fishery stocks now, and Center researchers are working on tools for understanding what that means for future stock conditions and the fisheries that depend on them.

Can Science Help Fisheries Adapt to A Warming Ocean?

Armed with decades of data and a strong appreciation of what climate change could mean for fisheries, Center researchers are focusing on science to help navigate this rapidly evolving future.

In 2016, the Center released a fisheries climate action plan for the region. In 2018, Congress provided funding to pursue that plan. Our Center responded with projects that would result in the greatest benefit in the near-term. It’s a multi-year, dedicated effort to create the kind of information needed as we strive to maintain viable fisheries in a warming world ocean.

Ten projects are underway to improve stock assessments through new modeling, better surveys, and more work to understand the vulnerabilities of coastal communities to climate change. Some of these are new, but some support existing projects.

While no single project can do the job, the combined results along with stronger regional collaborations and partnerships can make progress.

Who is Involved?

To meet this challenge, collaboration is essential. Center scientists are working with research partners from around the region:

Extending single-species state-space assessment models to incorporate environmental effects on life-history attributes

PI: Timothy J. Miller
Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Funding: $320,000

Problem: Stock assessment models need to include environmental forcing on model parameters in order to account for climate effects on a stock's productivity or demographics. A general state-space stock assessment framework is in development at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. The framework needs to be extended to implement submodels for incorporating environmental or climate effects. Extending the framework in this way provides a tool for making statistically reliable inferences on the predictive importance of these covariates on fish stocks.

Approach: This research will extend the single-species state-space assessment modeling framework to incorporate time-series models for environmental characteristics and effects on life-history attributes of the assessed stock. The augmented state-space assessment framework could be applied to species such as Atlantic cod, yellowtail flounder, winter flounder, summer flounder, silver hake, and Atlantic butterfish, depending on the benchmark assessments undertaken for 2020-2021. A post-doctoral collaborator will extend the assessment model framework to include the environmental time-series models, identify stocks and environmental drivers to investigate, publish peer-reviewed articles on this research, and present the work at scientific and stock assessment working group meetings.

Expected Outcomes: We expect to produce a stock assessment software framework that can include environmental covariate effects on a range of assessment model parameters. The assessment software is intended to be a part of the NOAA Fisheries Tool Box and available to assessment scientists around the world. Multiple peer-reviewed papers will be completed evaluating environmental effects on various groundfish stocks. This work also provides training in assessment models for a post-doctoral collaborator, building skills needed in our next-generation work force.

2019 Project Update: Researchers have developed software to fit state-space stock assessment models. They are now working on extensions that allow recruitment, catchability and natural mortality to be influenced by environmental covariates. Next steps include applications of the model to particular stocks in order to statistically evaluate the evidence for effects of environmental drivers.

Northeast Regional Action Plan Priority: NERAP Action 2 - Continue development of stock assessment models that include environmental terms

A pilot project exploring the utility of next-generation DNA sequencing in fisheries research

PIs: David Richardson and Chris Orphanides
Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Funding: $25,000

Problem: Climate change is causing numerous changes in fish, invertebrate, marine mammal, sea turtle, and marine plant populations, as well as in the habitats that these species use. These changes in individual species abundance and distribution are affecting predator-prey relationships and could change natural mortality rates in fish populations over time. Multiple hypotheses have been proposed for observed groundfish population trends. These include bottom-up hypotheses tied to climate change, top-down hypotheses related to resurgent predator populations, hypotheses tied to the effects of fishing pressure and other human activities, and hypotheses that include multiple interacting factors. In many cases, data gaps limit the ability to test the mechanisms that underlie these specific hypotheses, resulting in a focus on correlations and model development. In this project, we will test and develop a novel genetic diet-analysis tool that can be used to evaluate a subset of hypotheses about predator-prey interactions. Next-generation DNA sequencing can take a "mixed" sample, originating from many species, and then produce thousands of sequences that encompass all of species within that sample. This contrasts with the more traditional Sanger sequencing: one sample→one sequence.

Approach: Next-generation sequencing is particularly useful when working with samples for which it is not possible, practical, or time-effective to isolate any one organism. For example, this approach has been used with great success in diet analyses derived from feces (including that of seals) and heavily macerated diet remains. We propose a low-cost pilot project, partnering with the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding at the University of Guelph to explore the reliability of outsourcing next-generation sequencing. We will contract to run two 96-well plates (190 samples + two blanks). We will evaluate samples of increasing complexity, including diet samples from squid stomachs, stranded marine mammal stomachs, and seal feces. Traditional morphological diet analyses for these species have been hypothesized to be biased because the predator does not alsways consume the hard parts or prey or owing to the heavily digested state of the samples.

Expected Outcomes: This project is intended to provide information on the usefulness of next-generation sequencing in diet analyses. We intend to use a full set of control samples to examine the biases that may be inherent in this approach. If the approach is found to be useful, we will pursue further funding for a more extensive project. This more extensive project would be targeted at 1) evaluating whether resurgent predator populations are negatively impacting depleted groundfish populations, and 2) developing a dataset that can refine population models that include predation.

2019 Progress Update: All diet samples have been collected and are ready for analysis using next-generation sequencing. These include 1) fecal samples from a captive pinniped only fed Atlantic herring, 2) fecal samples collected in the field at a haul out site, 3) fecal samples collected from individuals that were bycaught in fisheries operations, 4) mixed stomach samples of unidentified material. We plan to process these samples in September 2019. The results can help guide further studies.

Northeast Regional Action Plan Priority: NERAP Action 10 - Conduct research on the mechanistic effects of multiple climate factors on living marine resources with a goal of improving assessments and scientific advice provided to managers. 

Improved survey data and new analyses to enhance New England groundfish assessments: Gulf of Maine cooperative bottom-longline survey

PIs: David McElroy, Gary Shepherd, Amanda McCarty
Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Collaborators:Capt. Eric Hesse and Capt. Phil Lynch
Commercial longline fishermen

Funding: $438,000

Problem: Maintaining a time series of data is critical to understanding the effect of changing climate on fisheries, species distribution, and abundance relative to preferred habitats. The Gulf of Maine bottom-longline survey is industry-based and provides abundance and biological data gathered from rocky-bottom habitat for important groundfish species. Many of the species targeted are at the southern limit of their range and highly vulnerable to climate change. To incorporate these data into groundfish assessments, we first need a longline survey time series, an index model with appropriate variance measures, and evaluation of environmental and other covariates.

Approach: The Gulf of Maine cooperative bottom-longline survey focuses on complex rocky habitat not readily sampled using trawl gear. The bottom-longline survey data complements that derived from other fishery-independent surveys, particularly the NEFSC bottom trawl survey. Analysis of bottom-longline survey data will support stock assessments, management programs, and our understanding of shifting ecosystem dynamics in a changing environment. At least 8 fish species, such as Atlantic cod and white hake, are captured in sufficient numbers to provide a consistent index of abundance in the area surveyed. The survey also yields age-sampling data for larger sizes of important groundfish. More age sampling data can improve precision of the keys used in assessments. The Gulf of Maine cooperative bottom-longline survey also provides abundance and biological data for 5 to 6 data-poor species, some of which have very small quotas that once reached can limit commerical catch for other groundfish species. These data-poor species can be hard to capture with trawl gear. Bottom temperature, current, and habitat data collected at all stations helps monitor shifts in fish abundance and distribution relative to these changing environmental parameters.

Expected Outcomes:

  • A survey index of relative abundance with variance estimates for regularly captured species
  • Analytical comparisons of size/age compositions between the cooperative longline survey and the NEFSC bottom trawl survey
  • Data/infomration for groundfish stock assessments
  • Spatial analysis of species distributions by habitat type, and relative to other surveys
  • Incorporation of the data into species distribution models
  • Continuation of the longline survey in 2019

2019 Progress Update: We completed the spring 2019 survey. Fall survey planning is ongoing. A report on the survey’s first four years has published. We are refining the statistical approach we want to use to compare size composition in catches of Atlantic cod and white hake made by this survey and the NEFSC bottom-trawl survey. Work is ongoing to develop a survey index (the fixed gear provides some interesting and distinct challenges) and to incorporate the longline survey results into data considered for stock assessments.

Northeast Regional Action Plan Priority: NERAP Action 13 - Maintain ecosystem survey effort in the Northeast U.S. Shelf ecosystem including the Bottom Trawl Survey, Ecosystem Monitoring Program, Sea Scallop, Survey, Northern Shrimp Survey, Clam Survey, and Protected Species Surveys and expand where possible (e.g., data poor species).

An otolith growth trait for cod stock structure: addressing spatial variation in yield and testing a potential tool for mixed-stock analysis

PIs: Richard McBride, Eric Robillard, Mike Palmer
Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Collaborators: Atlantic Cod Stock Structure Working Group

Funding: $70,000

Problem: Changes in fish distribution could change stock structure, with implications for fishery stock assessments. Better understanding of Atlantic cod stock structure off the Northeastern U.S. has been identified as critical research to improve Atlantic cod assessments. The New England Fishery Management Council recommended that an Atlantic Cod Stock Structure Working Group be formed to evaluate current stock structure based on evidence such as life history, other phenotypic data, larval dispersal and adult movements, and genetics. This project addresses a specific morphological trait: natural markers identified by measuring growth rings present in otoliths. Results from this study will contribute to the working group's first objective, which is to build a scientifically robust update of Atlantic cod stock structure. If successful, this approach could also be incorporated into routine monitoring of stock composition in surveys and the landings (i.e., mixed stock analysis) because aging otoliths is a routine part of cod stock monitoring and assessment. Owing to the historical collection of otoliths held by the NEFSC, this method could also be used to evaluate changes in stock structure over the past several decades.

Approach: The incremental distance of the first few otolith annuli will be measured using image analysis. These distance values represent annual growth rates during the stage of life when growth is most rapid. Preliminary data suggest that these distances vary significantly both between and within assessment stock units. The spatial resolution of this approach is limited by sample size of fish caught near spawning grounds during the spawning season. However, several decades of archived material exist that can be pooled. This project will compare growth between western and eastern Georges Bank cod, potential mixing of growth phenotypes in the Great South Channel, and the potential for growth variations within strata in the Mid-Atlantic Bight and the inshore Gulf of Maine.

Expected Outcomes: The analysis of otolith annuli will be useful to federal and state assessment scientists and managers in the New England region. Spatial variation in growth rates – of interest to assessment scientists – is expected, based on environmental drivers such as temperature and productivity. Also, variation in the first otolith ring is expected from variable spawning times (i.e., spring, autumn), which is based on genetic variation.

2019 Progress Update: Recently published research shows that Gulf of Maine cod spawned in the winter are genetically and behaviorally different from those spawned in the spring. Further, researchers found that the first growth ring on the otolith was a good indicator when trying to distinguish the two as adults. Our study applies this work to otoliths in the Northeast Fisheries Science Center's archive. Preliminary findings are that the growth rings cannot be readily differentiated with the naked eye, but that a statistical model can do this with reasonable accuracy, and that the relative contribution to the overall stock by winter and spring spawners has changed between select decades. These results suggest a path forward for mixed stock analysis should that be needed for stock assessment or management.

Northeast Regional Action Plan Priority: NERAP Action 6 - Improve spatial management of living marine resources through an increased understanding of spatial and temporal distributions, migration, and phenology. 

Evaluation of stock structure of the Northeast groundfish red hake and windowpane flounder

PIs: David Richardson, Katey Marancik, and Harvey Walsh
Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Funding: $133,000

Problem: The distributions of red hake and windowpane flounder have changed substantially over the past several decades and the distribution change in red hake has been linked to climate forcing. Red hake and windowpane flounder are both relatively small fisheries from an economic standpoint. However, they have recently drawn more focus in the groundfish fishery, since accountability measures to constrain overfishing are tied to quotas for all species managed under the groundfish fishery management plan, including the relatively small red hake and windowpane flounder quotas. Both red hake and windowpane flounder have northern and southern stocks, although stock identification research has been very limited for these species in comparison to more valuable groundfish species such as yellowtail flounder and cod.

Approach:We will develop early life-history information to support development of larval indices for both species, and provide information on when and where they spawn, two factors important for stock identification. This early life-history data will be evaluated within a broader suite of survey data on these stocks. For red hake, this work extends an ongoing project. With these additional funds, we will identify archived larvae from more years, including recently catalogued early-1970s larvae. We will also age larvae from ethanol preserved samples. This is necessary in order to back-calculate spawning areas and calculate a larval index. The intent is to broaden the early life-history data available to evaluate stock structure, and to provide a second measure of population trend. For windowpane flounder, we will examine spatial patterns in spawning dynamics using early life-stage collections, and evaluate the persistence and relative importance of the spring spawning seasons on the southern end of the range. Given the extent of warming observed at the southern end of the range, we expect that the dynamics of windowpane flounder may have changed, as has been documented for more thoroughly studied species.

Expected Outcomes: We will produce working papers and peer-reviewed papers summarizing the early life-history data of these two species and reporting on whether these data support the two-stock hypothesis, a single-stock hypothesis, or an alternate population structure. We also will summarize data gaps on stock structure for each species. These results will be presented to assessment working groups as scheduled by the Northeast Regional Coordinating Committee.

2019 Progress Update: Approximately 100 windowpane and 100 red hake larvae have been aged using daily growth rings. This provides information esseential for evaluating spawning timing and locations, and for calculating larval indices. A manuscript is currently under review that for the first time describes the characters that can be used by researchers to confidently separate the larvae of red hake, spotted hake, and white hake. We have identified by species more than 25,000 hake larvae gathered in three different decades, providing the species-level data needed to evaluate spawning dynamics.

Northeast Regional Action Plan Priority: NERAP Action 6 - Improve spatial management of living marine resources through an increased understanding of spatial and temporal distributions, migration, and phenology.

Climate impacts on the availability of selected groundfish in the Gulf of Maine to the NEFSC bottom trawl survey

PI: John Manderson
Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Collaborators: Gregory Decelles
Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries
David Richardson
Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Funding: $253,000

Problem: The Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest warming ecosystems on Earth. Fishermen and scientists have observed shifts in groundfish distribution in the Gulf of Maine that may be related to changing climate. Geographical shifts in species distribution may be accompanied by changes in migration timing. These changes in distribution and migration may be changing the availability of groundfish to surveys in a way that biases indices of population size used in stock assessments that inform fishery management. Fishermen and scientists alike are concerned about the potential impacts of shifts in distribution and movement on accuracy of stock assessments and soundness of fisheries management. Our goal is to collaborate with fishing industry experts to investigate these impacts and develop tools to account for them in operational stock assessments.

Approach: We will form a fishery science collaboration that uses 1:1 semi-structured interviews and workshops to develop a set of mechanistic hypotheses about distribution shifts for groundfish species for which we have peer-reviewed estimates of maximum bounds of trawl survey net efficiency (American plaice, witch flounder, yellowtail flounder, winter flounder, summer flounder). We will continue the collaboration to evaluate the hypotheses quantitatively, using available fishery-dependent and fishery-independent data and a field evaluation. Where appropriate we will use these evaluations to guide development of tools to estimate changes in species availability that can be combined with maximum bounds of trawl survey net efficiency to inform catchability estimates and improve the accuracy of stock assessments for the target species.

Expected Outcomes:

  • Fishery-dependent knowledge of historical distribution shifts and habitat associations for select Gulf of Maine groundfish synthesized from interviews and workshops
  • Hypotheses about ecological drivers of distribution shifts based on this synthesis
  • Evaluation of these hypotheses using existing data and a field experiment
  • Analyses and models that describe the results and account for climate-related changes in availability, presented in working papers for peer-reviewed stock assessments of targeted species and in publications
  • Collaboration with assessment scientists to integrate results into stock assessments

2019 Progress Update: We held one-on-one discussions with groundfishermen in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island to gather their knowledge about flatfish off New England. We also discussed a variety of factors that could impair our ability to assess flatfish populations accurately. We summarized discussions and used the information to direct our initial exploration and analysis of fishery data. In May, our team shared the discussion summaries and preliminary analyses with fishermen in Gloucester, Massachusetts and in Bath, Maine. Because of these engagements real-time observations made by fishermen continue to shape the direction of our analyses and our analytical products. American plaice is a focal point of our study and we are working with the scientist leading the 2022 American plaice assessment to find ways to consider this information in the assessment.

Northeast Regional Action Plan Priority: NERAP Action 6 - Improve spatial management of living marine resources through an increased understanding of spatial and temporal distributions, migration, and phenology

Extend work to develop and evaluate a seasonal-to-interannual statistical forecasting system for oceanographic conditions and living marine resources on the Northeast U.S. Shelf

PIs: Paula Fratantoni, Vincent Saba, Tim Miller
Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Collaborators: Young-Oh Kwon, Ke Chen, Glen Gawarkiewicz, Terry Joyce
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Janet Nye
Stony Brook University

Funding: $127,000

Problem: The Northeast U.S. Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem supports some of the world's most commercially valuable fisheries and has experienced dramatic ecosystem change in response to fishing pressure, climate variability, and climate change, creating significant challenges for fishery stock assessments. Incorporating physical environmental variables into stock assessment population models and subsequent forecasts could improve model performance and reduce uncertainty in predictions of future population size. However, current climate model-based, seasonal-to-interannual predictions exhibit limited prediction skill in the coastal environment. Recent studies have revealed statistically significant correlations between temperature and multiple large-scale climate features, suggesting predictability is possible.

Approach: This work extends an existing project aimed at developing a seasonal-to-interannual statistical prediction system for ocean temperatures that can be used to improve fisheries stock assessments. It leverages statistical relationships that link shelf ocean temperatures to large-scale climate features. The dynamics underlying these statistical relationships are being explored using ocean hindcast models and coupled ocean-atmosphere models. The prediction system will be evaluated for winter flounder and yellowtail flounder. Extending this project allows evaluation of more New England groundfish stocks assessments for other stocks that have known environment-recruitment linkages, such as Atlantic cod and silver hake. Ultimately, it is expected that incorporating reliable forecasts of ocean temperature into stock assessment population models will improve model performance and reduce uncertainty in the predictions of future population size used to inform fishery management decisions.

Expected Outcomes: Provide skillful seasonal and interannual forecasts of temperature using the newly developed statistical forecasting system for the U.S. Northeast Shelf and apply to population forecasts in stock assessments of New England groundfish.

2019 Progress Update: We have developed statistical models to forecast ocean temperature on the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf. Simple models that predict future temperature based solely on prior temperatures showed more skill in certain seasons. We used them to forecast shelf temperatures in southern New England and found the results were reliable 7 months into the future when the forecast was initiated in December, but only up to 1 month into the future when initiated at other times of the year. When ocean temperatures from adjoining regions on the shelf are in the model, forecasts improved. Next, we will introduce into the models predictors other than temperature, for example the position of the Gulf Stream, which correlates with temperature on the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf.

Northeast Regional Action Plan Priority: NERAP Action 8 - Work with NOAA Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and academic scientists to develop short-term (day to year) and medium-term (year to decade) living marine resource forecasting products.

Modeling responses of New England groundfish to multiple ecological aspects of climate change

PIs: Vincent Saba and Vincent Guida
Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Collaborators: Enrique Curchitser
Rutgers The State University of New Jersey
Charles Stock
NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory
Mike Alexander
NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Funding: $254,000

Problem: Changing climate results in a shift of thermal habitat, however, ocean temperature is just one variable affecting critical habitat for certain species. Using other biophysical variables such as salinity, current, phytoplankton/zooplankton indices, and bottom topography can improve estimates of suitable habitat and projections of future species distributions.

Approach: Currently, projections of suitable habitat shifts under climate change have been largely based on ocean temperature. However, it has been shown that using other biophysical variables such as salinity, ocean current variables, phytoplankton/zooplankton indices, and bottom topography can improve estimates of suitable habitat. The NEFSC Habitat Ecology Branch already has an existing database built on data from a wide variety of available sources for developing models on groundfish suitability based on bottom topography, sediments, current regime, and various salinity and temperature variables. For this project, habitat model projections will be based on a range of predicted climate scenarios, including NOAA GFDL's high-resolution CM2.6 and the Rutgers University/NOAA ROMS-COBALT projection that includes biogeochemistry, phytoplankton, and zooplankton. One of the advantages of our modeling scheme is that the team has already developed a process by which it can create species assemblage models, pointing to interactions between ~170 Northeast U.S. species. Further, we have developed means of modeling short-term (monthly) species distributions response to the changes in ocean temperature and other variables that can be used to assess seasonal migratory dynamics.

Expected Outcomes:

  • Functional habitat suitability models for New England groundfish assessments and research
  • Incorporatation of CM2.6 and ROMS-COBALT climate change projections into these new New England groundfish habitat models
  • Assessment of changes in suitable habitat based on biophysical variables beyond ocean temperature
  • Comparison of hindcasts and projections to habitat models based exclusively on ocean temperature
  • 2019 Project Update: We have developed a process to create species assemblage models, pointing to interactions among approximately 170 northeast species. We have developed means of modeling monthly species distributions and how these distributions respond to changes in ocean temperature and other variables, in order to assess seasonal migratory dynamics. We are currently using a new, three-dimensional regional historical simulation, also called a "hindcast", that includes biogeochemistry, primary production, and secondary production. We are now comparing this hindcast to New England groundfish habitat using both fishery-independent and fishery-dependent data, to derive predictor variables that are not exclusive to ocean temperature.

    Northeast Regional Action Plan Priority: NERAP Action 6 - Improve spatial management of living marine resources through an increased understanding of spatial and temporal distributions, migration, and phenology.

Coupling climate and groundfish species distribution models with economic models of fishing location decisions and links to community vulnerability

PIs: Min-Yang Lee, Lisa L. Colburn, Patricia M. Clay, Eric M. Thunberg
Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Collaborators:Anna M Birkenbach
Delaware Sea Grant
Sarah Gaichas
Northeast Fisheries Science Center
Gavin Fay
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Lisa Kerr
Gulf of Maine Research Institute

Funding: $158,000

Problem: As climate changes, stocks of fish will move around in the ocean. Will fishermen target different stocks or chase traditional ones? Will they continue to land fish in the same ports or will they move to new ports? Answering these questions will help us understand which communities will be positively and negatively affected by climate change.

Approach: This project will link climate- and stock-related projections for groundfish to economic outcomes for fishermen and fishing communities. We will construct statistical models that explain how fishermen select target stocks and landing locations. These models can then be used to understand how these two behaviors will change under various climate and policy scenarios. Results are intended to inform another ongoing NOAA-funded 3-year research project that is developing a management strategy evaluation for Northeast US Georges Bank groundfish that is testing the performance of stock assessment methods and harvest control rules under alternative climate change scenarios.

Expected Outcomes: Expected outcomes include estimating microeconometric models of species targeting decisions, estimating microeconometric models of port choice, integrating results with a concurrent project in development at Umass-Dartmouth and GMRI, and documenting findings in peer-reviewed publications. The results of this research can be used by fishery managers to understand how climate and policy will affect fishermen and fishing communities.

2019 Progress Update: We are developing and refining micro-econometric models to better understand a fisherman’s decisions about which species to target. We are also developing an integrated biological and economic model.

Northeast Regional Action Plan Priority: NERAP Action 4 - Increase social and economic scientist involvement in climate change research through multidisciplinary work on climate that includes both social and natural sciences.

Developing indices of vulnerability to climate change for groundfishing communities in the Northeast

PIs: Patricia M. Clay and Lisa L. Colburn
Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Collaborators: Kevin St. Martin and Malin Pinsky
Rutgers The State University of New Jersey

Funding: $222,000

Problem: Scientists are still in the early stages of understanding climate risks for fisheries and fishing communities, as well as effective ways to adapt to these risks. Climate change is already driving significant shifts in the distributions of marine species, and related changes in fishing opportunities for fishing communities. The degree of change in ocean conditions varies along the U.S. coastline, as does the degree of community dependence on fishing and on particular species. Social indicators relevant to ocean ecosystems have been developed that provide useful measures of impacts to land-based communities that rely on fishing, but they do not include information on where the communities fish, where they derive their livings, and where climate impacts on targeted species will be felt.

Approach: In this project, we will define the vulnerability of fishing communities to climate change due to the ecological vulnerability of the stocks they fish, the degree to which their livelihoods depend on each of those resources, and their ability to adapt in the face of change. We will examine fishing dynamics at sea and evaluate how these dynamics have been, or will be, altered by a changing environment. Information about where community members fish will be combined with information on historical and projected future changes to physical and biological conditions. This novel index of fishing-community vulnerability to climate change will provide a useful complement to NOAA’s existing fishing community vulnerability indicators in the Northeast.

Expected Outcomes:

  • Improved assessment of climate vulnerability of Northeast groundfish communities and identification of the most at-risk communities
  • Dissemination of results via existing web tools, especially the Ocean Adapt website at Rutgers University, the NEFSC Climate site, and the NOAA Social Indicators site
  • Engagement with NMFS, the regional fishery management councils, and Sea Grant extension offices to integrate this vulnerability index into their ecosystem-based and climate-adaptation outreach initiatives

2019 Project Update: In this first year, work focuses on amassing and preparing the required information already available as a basis for analyzing chemical and physical factors, and living components of the ecosystem. In the second year, we will engage with a variety of partners to integrate this vulnerability index into ecosystem-based and climate-adaptation outreach initiatives. The results will be available digitally through existing portals such as Ocean Adapt, the NEFSC climate site, and the NOAA Social Indicators site.

Northeast Regional Action Plan Priority: NERAP Action 4 - Increase social and economic scientist involvement in climate change research through multidisciplinary work on climate that includes both social and natural sciences.

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