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.

Climate Ready Communities

Tool Overview: 

Over the past 10 years of helping communities understand and adapt to changing climate conditions, the Geos Institute has developed a proven planning framework known as Whole Community Resilience - a cross-sector, multi-stakeholder approach that is adaptive over time and creates multiple benefits across the community. The framework aims to not only develop a plan, but also to strengthen local adaptive capacity, which ensures that communities have the skills necessary to update their climate resilience plans over time.

Measuring Progress on Adaptation and Climate Resilience: Recommendations to the Government of Canada

The Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Results was launched by the federal government in August 2017 to advise the Government of Canada on measuring overall progress on adaptation and climate resilience. The Expert Panel was asked to recommend a suite of indicators to measure progress on adaptation and climate resilience in Canada. The recommended indicators were to align with the five key areas of action identified under the adaptation and climate resilience pillar of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, Canada’s national plan to address climatechange, build resilience, and grow the economy.

Underwater: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods, and the Implications for US Coastal Real Estate

Along nearly 13,000 miles of coastline of the contiguous United States, hundreds of thousands of buildings lie in the path of rising seas: schools, hospitals, churches, factories, homes, and businesses. As sea levels rise, persistent high-tide flooding of homes, yards, roads, and business districts will begin to render properties effectively unlivable, and neighborhoods—even whole communities— nancially unattractive and potentially unviable.

Yet property values in most coastal real estate markets do not currently reflect this risk. And most homeowners, communities, and investors are not aware of the nancial losses they may soon face.

This analysis estimates the number of homes and commercial properties throughout the coastal United States that will be put at risk from chronic, disruptive flooding—defined as flooding that occurs 26 times per year or more (Dahl et al. 2017; Spanger-Siegfried et al. 2017)—in the coming decades.



Tool Overview: 

Gulf TREE was created to fulfill the need for guidance in climate tool selection. Stakeholders such as natural resource managers and community planners who understood the importance of incorporating climate resiliency into their projects struggled to find the right tool - the daunting process can be time-consuming, overwhelming, and very confusing.

Tool Description: 

To ensure that Gulf TREE would be relevant, workshops across the Gulf Coast were held both before and after development of the website. During the workshops, potential users gave input on current climate challenges, what they looked for when selecting a tool, and specific features they would like in Gulf TREE. When development finished, they tested the website and gave additional feedback which was integrated before the website publicly rolled out.

Important Note:

Climate-Resilient Water Management: An Operational Framework from South Asia

The Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme has been actively working in five South Asian countries to help governments plan for, and manage, the impacts of climate change in the water sector. ACT has championed a Climate-Resilient Water Management (CRWM) approach as a way of increasing the resilience of water systems on which billions of people rely.

This learning paper outlines the core elements of the CRWM framework and provides examples from ACT’s work employing the framework across the region. The methodology has been deployed in South Asia, but will be of relevance to practitioners and policy makers working in water resource management around the world.


This framework is informed by these activities and within this water management interventions are sorted into three categories: 

  1.  Water resource management (including assessment, supply augmentation and demand management); 

  1.  Management of extreme events (floods and droughts); and, 

  1.  Creating an enabling environment for CRWM (including mainstreaming climate impacts in sectoral and cross-sectoral policies, among other governance instruments). 

A 60-second audio abstract can be accessed here.

Key Contacts 


Available Science Assessment Process (ASAP): Sea Level Rise in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California

The goal of the Available Science Assessment Process (ASAP) is to synthesize and evaluate the body of scientific knowledge on specific, on-the-ground climate adaptation actions to determine the conditions, timeframes, and geographic areas where particular actions may be most effective for resource managers. This project identified sea level rise-related adaptation actions applied by resource managers, and evaluated the science behind those actions that may inform - if not improve - coastal planning and management in the Northwest.