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. 

Lagged social-ecological responses to climate and range shifts in fisheries

While previous research has documented marine fish and invertebrates shifting poleward in response to warming climates, less is known about the response of fisheries to these changes. By examining fisheries in the northeastern United States over the last four decades of warming temperatures, we show that northward shifts in species distributions were matched by corresponding northward shifts in fisheries. The proportion of warm-water species caught in most states also increased through time. Most importantly, however, fisheries shifted only 10–30 % as much as their target species, and evidence suggested that economic and regulatory constraints played important roles in creating these lags. These lags may lead to overfishing and population declines if not accounted for in fisheries management and climate adaptation. In coupled natural-human systems such as fisheries, human actions play important roles in determining the sustainability of the system and, therefore, future conservation and climate mitigation planning will need to consider not only biophysical changes, but also human responses to these changes and the feedbacks that these responses have on ecosystems.

Fish, Fisheries, and Water Resources: Adapting to Ontario’s Changing Climate


United States
48° 54' 11.6856" N, 84° 48' 52.0308" W

This integrated research project, which ran from 2007-2008, was initiated to better understand the implications of projected climate change impacts and adaptation responses on southern Ontario’s fish, fisheries, and water resources. Climate change will have predominantly negative effects on species and habitats, and resulting economic effects are expected to be devastating to the region. In addition, changes in temperature and precipitation patterns will require alterations to water resources planning and management.

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Tribal Resilience Program - Senior GIS Analyst