1. Capacity Building

Building the capacity of organizations, practitioners, and the public can increase the ability to plan, develop, and implement adaptation actions. Example strategies within this category include conducting research and assessments, investing in training and outreach efforts, and developing new tools and resources, among others. The majority of adaptation efforts from our survey of fisheries science and management are focused on capacity building.



Conduct Research, Studies & Assessments

This strategy includes conducting research, assessing impacts and vulnerability, and using citizen science efforts to more fully understand the effects of climate change on fisheries with the goal of making climate-informed decisions.

Targeted Research

Targeted research programs and studies aid adaptation efforts by establishing a baseline from which to measure change or by addressing the specific uncertainties and variables that may be hindering progress on adaptation action (Gregg et al. 2012). Such studies are underway in the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and Florida. In the North Atlantic, scientists are investigating the connections between ecosystem changes and the energy requirements of salmon and their prey (Mills 2016a). Previous research has indicated a correlation between Atlantic salmon population declines and changes in marine ecosystems. This study focuses on the hypothesis that ecosystem changes have influenced the energy needed by and available to Atlantic salmon, thereby affecting salmon growth, survival, and productivity during their marine phase. Results will provide a better understanding of how marine ecosystem conditions affect Atlantic salmon populations, which is valuable information for evaluating their recovery prospects and constraints.

The North Pacific Climate Regimes and Ecosystem Productivity (NPCREP) program conducts research on ecosystem responses to climate variability in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, areas of critical importance to fisheries (Gregg 2010a). Impacts of concern include warmer air and water temperatures, loss of sea ice, and range shifts, all of which affect trophic structure and fishery stock availability. The main tasks of the NPCREP program include developing climate models and tools to assist fishery managers with stock assessments and projections, and providing relevant and accessible ecosystem data. These tools are provided to regional managers, including the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, to incorporate climate change into harvest rules and other management decisions that affect regional marine resources. Another Bering Sea study, initiated in 2015, focuses on several commercially and ecologically important fish, such as walleye pollock, Pacific cod, arrowtooth flounder (Atheresthes stomias), northern rock sole (Lepidopsetta polyxystra), and snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio), to estimate how these populations will be impacted by climatic variability (Score 2016a). This effort, a partnership between NOAA Fisheries and the University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, supplements the activities of the multi-year, multi-disciplinary Bering Sea Project, wherein scientists studied regional ecosystem processes, including how climate change might impact fish stocks and fishing communities. This new study will draw from previous modeling of climate indicators, ocean conditions, and the socio-economics of fishing communities and industry to develop models that will help fisheries managers prioritize and implement the most effective climate-informed strategies.

The Florida Shelf Habitat (FLaSH) Ecosystem Project examines the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on living marine resources along the shelf (Gregg 2010b). Scientists are studying ocean chemistry to better understand the impacts of higher levels of atmospheric CO2 on marine and coastal resources. Results of this project inform policy and science decisions on potential remediation efforts to protect living marine resources along Florida’s shelf.

Impacts Assessment

Impacts assessments provide critical information on specific climate changes of concern, including identifying and synthesizing effects on and consequences for species, habitats, and communities. This information is gathered through modeling, analysis, and local and traditional ecological knowledge. These assessments are occurring at both regional and local scales. The Gulf of Maine is a dynamic region that has warmed rapidly in recent years, including single-year events in 1999 and 2012 that have been correlated with shifts in species distributions. The National Science Foundation funded the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to examine how abrupt short-term temperature changes, as well as the long-term warming trend, affect marine ecosystems and fisheries (Mills 2016b). In addition, the project examines dynamic interactions between fish populations, fisheries management, and markets, particularly for the lobster fishery. Researchers are evaluating spatial and temporal variability in surface and bottom temperatures and these effects on changing distributions of species that interact with lobsters (e.g., groundfish) along the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf.

At a smaller scale, the corals in Ofu Lagoon in the National Park of American Samoa exhibit a high level of tolerance to daily fluctuations in temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen (Clark et al. 2015). For example, the reef experienced significantly less bleaching than nearby corals during an extensive bleaching event in 2002-03. National Park scientists are studying the coral species and surrounding lagoon habitat to identify what biological, ecological, and physical characteristics make these corals more resilient to substantial fluctuations in temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen. Research indicates that the polyps of the Ofu Lagoon corals contain high thermal tolerance genes, and that their zooxanthellae are more tolerant of heat. Results from these and other studies may help identify local refugia and mechanisms to use Ofu coral species to reseed other reef systems.

Vulnerability Assessment

Vulnerability assessments and studies help managers evaluate what resources are at risk and why by examining exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. Assessments of fisheries vulnerability are emerging in practice with few examples found in our survey.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community coordinated a vulnerability assessment of direct and indirect exposure of fisheries in Pacific Island countries and territories to climate change and ocean acidification (Bell et al. 2011). Fisheries in these countries contribute significantly to national and local economies, as well as livelihoods and food security. Scientists assessed vulnerability to projected changes in climatic and oceanic conditions using two emissions scenarios (low [B1] and high [A2]) in two timeframes (2035 and 2100). The assessment analyzed projected changes to oceanic, coastal, and freshwater fisheries and aquaculture activities within each of the Pacific Island countries and territories, including the Marshall Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. For example, catches of skipjack tuna in American Samoa and Guam are expected to increase, and pond aquaculture of tilapia in American Samoa may benefit from increased rainfall, stream flows, and temperatures. However, nearshore pelagic fish and intertidal and subtidal invertebrates are expected to progressively decline in productivity from increased water temperatures and effects on critical fish habitats.

The Northeast Fish and Shellfish Climate Vulnerability Assessment applied the NOAA Fisheries Fish Species Climate Vulnerability Assessment Methodology to examine 82 species within the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem (Score 2016b). The 82 fish and invertebrate species evaluated include those of ecological, commercial, and recreational importance, as well as species listed under the Endangered Species Act. The study provided insight on the species types most vulnerable to changing conditions based on distribution and life histories. Species that migrate between fresh and salt water (e.g., sturgeon [Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus], Atlantic salmon [Salmo salar]), and those that live on the sea floor (e.g., scallops, lobsters) emerged as the most vulnerable to climate effects in the region. Species that live closer to the surface (e.g., Atlantic herring [Clupea harengus], Atlantic mackerel [Scomber scombrus]) were found to be the least vulnerable. The assessment also found that the majority of the species assessed are likely to change their distribution in response to climate change. Numerous distribution shifts have already been documented in the region, and this study indicates that widespread distribution shifts are likely to continue.

Ekstrom et al. (2015) assessed the vulnerability of shellfish harvests and fishing communities in the United States to ocean acidification. The study highlighted the regions most exposed to acidifying waters, including the Pacific Northwest, Southern Alaska, north-central West Coast, and Gulf of Maine, as well as socially vulnerable fishing communities in the Southeast and Gulf of Mexico.

Citizen Science Efforts

Volunteer and citizen science efforts are key mechanisms to engage individuals and groups, including the fishing industry, in climate adaptation. For example, the Lobster Research Fleet Pilot Project (also known as the On-Deck Data Program) engaged the lobster-fishing community to collect data on water temperature and species distribution (Petruny-Parker 2016). The project team equipped a portion of the commercial lobster fleet vessels with Google Nexus tablets, temperature sensors, and digital calipers to collect biological data on lobsters and Jonah crabs and bottom water temperatures in offshore waters out to the continental shelf break. This effort has effectively engaged commercial fishermen in collecting a robust set of data on species distribution and abundance to inform stock assessments.


Conduct Training & Planning Exercises

This strategy includes conducting vulnerability, adaptation, and scenario planning workshops to raise awareness of the challenges presented by climate change and to create viable strategies and actions, as well as other training exercises. In March 2014, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and partners convened the East Coast Climate Change and Fisheries Governance Workshop to discuss the effects of climate change on fisheries management (MAFMC 2014). More than 70 participants worked together to identify the management implications of changes in distribution and productivity, discuss the flexibility of existing fisheries regulatory frameworks to address climate change, and examine potential adaptation options and mechanisms to create “climate ready” fisheries. In addition, participants generated a list of specific information needs and key research questions to guide climate-informed options for managing East Coast fisheries. Similarly, the Island Institute hosted a series of workshops on ocean acidification, vulnerability, and predictive capabilities to help communities and fishermen better prepare for climate change (Arnold 2016). In addition, some groups are training fishermen how to diversify their fishing portfolio – that is, teaching fishermen to expand to additional species or learn new fishing techniques. For example, Maine’s Aquaculture in Shared Waters program trains fishermen how to diversify during periods of either low harvest or low economic value of harvest of their primary target – the American lobster – by engaging in aquaculture of shellfish and seaweed (Score 2016c). The program includes training on aquaculture site selection, equipment, permitting, marketing and sales, business planning, and financial management.


Increase Public Awareness, Education & Outreach Efforts

This strategy includes engaging the public in the climate adaptation discussion as well as improving the connections between science, management, and decision making. This includes informal and formal education efforts (e.g., presentations, fact sheets, websites, school curriculums) (Gregg et al. 2012). In the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary’s management plan, stakeholders identified several priority issues and actions, including increasing public awareness and understanding of climate change through an education and outreach program (Kershner 2010a). Activities to raise climate awareness include incorporating information on climate change and adaptation into volunteer, adult, and child education programs; providing opportunities for classroom and experimental learning; and hosting public lectures with local scientists and other partners on climate change. The Suquamish Tribe, meanwhile, developed the Ocean Acidification Curriculum Connection to provide K-12 teachers and educators with access to resources on acidification (OACC 2014). Resources include lesson plans and supplemental materials, such as videos, journal articles, and other websites on ocean acidification, targeted to specific school grades. Additional partners include the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and Washington Sea Grant.


Create & Enhance Resources & Tools

This strategy includes creating or improving the resources that can facilitate climate-informed fisheries management, including forecasting, early warning, and decision support tools.

Forecasting Tools

Forecasting tools project changes into the future based on historic and current data and trends. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute received funding from NASA to develop ecological forecasting models that can inform fisheries management by estimating the distribution of sentinel species in the Gulf of Maine, such as small pelagic fish and squid, based on Earth system data (Mills and Score 2016). These products will provide a foundation for real-time estimates and seasonal forecasts to support climate adaptation in fisheries throughout New England, including specific forecasts for Maine’s billion-dollar lobster industry. Similarly, the Atlantic Sea Scallop Integrated Assessment Model was developed to forecast ocean acidification impacts, help managers test different response scenarios of scallop populations and habitats, and project consequences for scallop harvest (Cooley et al. 2015).

Early warning tools NOAA Coral Reef Watch helps to identify areas at risk for coral bleaching by monitoring global sea surface temperature to produce data on trends, anomalies, and outlooks. The U.S. Virgin Islands BleachWatch Program uses alerts from NOAA Coral Reef Watch to monitor and respond to local coral bleaching events (Reef Resilience 2015). BleachWatch uses four alert levels to determine what actions to take – Bleach Watch (low-level thermal stress), Bleach Warning (accumulating thermal stress), Alert Level 1 (bleaching expected), and Alert Level 2 (significant bleaching expected). Trained volunteers are used to examine sites experiencing a Bleach Watch alert in order to document the presence and absence of bleaching and other basic observations, while scientists are deployed for higher-level alerts to conduct finer-scale monitoring of direct impacts to coral reefs (e.g., mortality, disease).


Monitor Climate Change Impacts & Adaptation Efficacy

Monitoring and evaluation are key components of the climate adaptation framework. This strategy includes monitoring to document climatic and environmental changes and associated effects on resources of concern to inform decision making, and evaluation to understand how effectively adaptation actions are working.

Documenting Change

Regional monitoring networks and programs have been set up to track climate change and ocean acidification. The NOAA Ocean Acidification Program created acidification networks to coordinate regional monitoring programs and research on ocean acidification (NOAA OAP 2016). These include the California Current Acidification Network (C-CAN), Northeast Coastal Acidification Network (NECAN), Southeast Ocean and Coastal Acidification Network (SOCAN), and the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network. The Alaska network was established in April 2016 with extensive support from industry (e.g., Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers), tribes (e.g., Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery), research organizations (e.g., Hakai Institute), and other state and federal agencies. Several National Estuarine Research Reserves in North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, Maine, and Rhode Island are engaged in sentinel monitoring programs to determine the effects of sea level rise, warmer temperatures, and storms on salt marshes, which provide valuable habitat for fish and wildlife (Gregg 2010c-g). Reserve staff annually monitor vegetation cover, peat soils, and salinity to track changes in water levels and marsh height in order to determine if and how salt marshes will respond to sea level rise, saltwater intrusion, and erosion.

Informing Decisions

Several examples exist of monitoring biological and environmental factors to inform harvest and conservation decisions. Subsistence and commercial shellfish managers are documenting the effects of harmful algal blooms, pH, nutrients, and dissolved oxygen on shellfish health and harvest potential. The Southeast Alaska Tribal Toxins (SEATT) group, formed by southeastern Alaskan tribes in 2013, monitors harmful algal blooms and impacts on subsistence shellfish fisheries (Gregg 2016). Tribal staff collect and input recorded data on phytoplankton and toxins into the partnership’s website (http://seator.org/data), as well as the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network database (https://products.coastalscience.noaa.gov/pmn), which is used to inform shellfish harvest decisions. Likewise, the Washington Ocean Acidification Center, created by the state legislature in 2013, has partnered with the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association to monitor water quality at six shellfish hatcheries and growing sites in Washington and Oregon – Taylor Shellfish Hatchery (Dabob Bay), Lummi Indian Nation Hatchery (Bellingham), Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery (Netarts Bay), Jolly Roger Oyster Company (Nahcotta), Ekone Oyster Company (Bay Center), and grow-out sites in Willapa Bay (Tokeland) (WOAC 2015). This data is uploaded to the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS) Visualization System Shellfish Growers App, which provides shellfish growers and managers with real-time water quality data to inform harvesting decisions.

The Cook Inlet Stream Temperature Monitoring Network was created in 2008 in collaboration with Cook Inletkeeper, tribes, federal and state agencies, and local citizens to document temperature changes throughout the watershed. The data is then overlaid with watershed characteristics such as land cover to identify and map salmon-bearing streams that may be acutely vulnerable to increasing temperatures. Managers use these maps to prioritize areas for conservation, protection, and restoration activities (Feifel 2010a).

Evaluating Effectiveness

At North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, managers are implementing and evaluating the performance of three different adaptation strategies in areas vulnerable to sea level rise, increasing storm surge, flooding, and saltwater intrusion (Gregg 2010h). Project leads are testing the use of oyster reefs to dissipate wave energy and reduce erosion, tide gates and other water control structures to prevent saltwater intrusion and restore hydrology, and planting salt- and flood-tolerant species, such as bald cypress and black gum, to stabilize the shoreline and combat expected coastal habitat loss. Managers are monitoring the success of each of these actions to determine which strategy or combination of strategies will be most effective at enhancing ecosystem resilience.