The State of Climate Adaptation in U.S. Marine Fisheries Management

This report presents the results of EcoAdapt’s efforts to survey adaptation action in marine fisheries management by examining the major climate impacts on marine and coastal fisheries in the United States, assessing related challenges to fisheries management, and presenting examples of actions taken to decrease vulnerability and/or increase resilience. First, we provide a summary of climate change impacts and secondary effects on fisheries, focusing on changes in air and water temperatures, precipitation patterns, storms, ocean circulation, sea level rise, and water chemistry. We then examine non-climatic factors that affect fisheries management, such as overfishing, bycatch, pollution, habitat degradation and modification, invasive and non-native species, and conflicting uses of marine and coastal ecosystems. Next, we examine how the aforementioned issues combine to influence abundance and productivity, distribution and recruitment, and essential fish habitat. Then we present the results of a survey sent to federal, tribal, state, and other practitioners to identify challenges, needs, and opportunities for climate-informed fisheries management and conservation. Summaries of and trends in commonly used adaptation approaches and examples from our survey and other resources are presented in four broad categories (Gregg et al. 2011; Gregg et al. 2012):

  1. Capacity Building: Strategies include conducting research and assessments, investing in training and outreach efforts, developing new tools and resources, and monitoring climate change impacts and adaptation effectiveness.
  2. Policy: Strategies include developing adaptation plans, creating new or enhancing existing policies, and developing adaptive management strategies.
  3. Natural Resource Management and Conservation: Strategies include incorporating climate change into restoration efforts, enhancing connectivity, reducing local change, and reducing non-climate stressors that may exacerbate the effects of climate change.
  4. Infrastructure, Planning, and Development: Strategies include protecting critical coastal infrastructure used by the fishing industry, and creating or modifying coastal development measures (e.g., removing shoreline hardening, encouraging low-impact development) to increase habitat resilience.

The majority of adaptation efforts in fisheries management to date have been focused on capacity building, including conducting research and assessments, creating resources and tools, and monitoring how climatic changes are affecting species, habitats, and fishing communities. Finally, we discuss several more options to advance adaptation in the fisheries sector that are either not yet represented or are only partially addressed by the examples from our survey. 

Climate-induced community relocations: using integrated social-ecological assessments to foster adaptation and resilience

Extreme weather events coupled with sea level rise and erosion will cause coastal and riverine areas where people live and maintain livelihoods to disappear permanently. Adaptation to these environmental changes, including the permanent relocation of millions of people, requires new governance tools. In the USA, local governments, often with state-level and national-level support, will be primarily responsible for protecting residents from climate-change impacts and implementing policies needed to protect their welfare. Government agencies have a variety of tools to facilitate protection in place and managed coastal retreat but have very limited tools to facilitate community relocation. In addition, no institutional mechanism currently exists to determine whether and when preventive relocation needs to occur to protect people from climate change impacts. Based on research involving four Alaska Native communities threatened by climate-induced environmental impacts, I propose the design and implementation of an adaptive governance framework to respond to the need to relocate populations. In this context, adaptive governance means the ability of institutions to dynamically respond to climate change impacts. A component of this adaptive governance framework is a social-ecological monitoring and assessment tool that can facilitate collaborative knowledge production by community residents and governance institutions to guide sustainable adaptation strategies and determine whether and when relocation needs to occur. The framework, including the monitoring and assessment tool, has not been systematically tested. However, the potential use of this tool is discussed by drawing on empirical examples of Alaskan communities faced with accelerating rates of erosion.