2. Policy

Mainstreaming adaptation into policies and plans is a key mechanism for adequately responding to climate change impacts. Example strategies within this category include developing adaptation plans, creating new or enhancing existing policies, and developing adaptive management strategies.



Develop & Implement Adaptation Plans

At the federal level, Presidential Executive Order 13514 mandates climate change preparedness in federal agency planning and operations across the country (Gregg 2010i). Each federal agency is required to create and implement an agency-specific climate change adaptation plan. In March 2011, the Council on Environmental Quality released Federal Agency Climate Change Adaptation Planning: Implementing Instructions (CEQ 2011), which provided guidelines for the development of these plans. Federal agencies submitted adaptation plans as part of their Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans to document specific strategies and actions to reduce the vulnerability of agency assets and investments to climate change. NOAA Fisheries, as part of the Department of Commerce’s adaptation plan, is tasked with several actions to protect fisheries in a changing climate. These include assessing climate impacts on fish stock distribution, assessing the vulnerability and resilience of stocks and fishing communities, enhancing the resilience of coral reefs, and protecting Pacific Northwest salmon, among others (Department of Commerce 2014).

NOAA Fisheries, along with stakeholders, fishery management councils, fisheries organizations, and tribes, is developing Regional Action Plans (RAPs) to prepare for and respond to climate impacts on marine and coastal resources (Score 2016d). The goal of the RAPs is to develop regional implementation guidance of the seven objectives outlined in the 2015 NOAA Fisheries Climate Science Strategy (Link et al. 2015), including:

  1. Identify climate-informed reference points for managing living marine resources.
  2. Identify strategies for managing living marine resources under changing climate conditions.
  3. Design decision processes that can respond to changing climate conditions.
  4. Identify future states of marine, coastal, and freshwater ecosystems, resources, and resource-dependent human communities in a changing climate.
  5. Identify climate impacts on ecosystems, living marine resources, and resource-dependent communities.
  6. Track trends in ecosystems, living marine resources, and resource-dependent communities and provide early warning of change.
  7. Build and maintain the science infrastructure needed to fulfill NOAA Fisheries mandates under changing climate conditions.

The RAPs are intended to provide guidance to increase resilience and reduce climate impacts on fish stocks, fishing-dependent communities, and protected species, and to identify strengths, weaknesses, priorities, and actions to implement the Strategy in each region over the next five years. Draft RAPs have been developed for the Northeast, Pacific Islands, West Coast, and Alaska; planning is underway for the Southeast region (Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, U.S. Caribbean).

The Nature Conservancy developed the Alaskan Marine Arctic Conservation Action Plan for the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas to guide the organization’s regional conservation and management actions (Gregg 2010j). An expert panel identified six primary conservation targets, including bowhead whales, ice-dependent marine mammals (i.e. polar bears), seabirds, boulder patch communities, benthic fauna, and fish, all of which are vulnerable to climate change. Adaptation strategies prioritized in the plan include promoting integrated ecosystem-based management and identifying and protecting climate refugia.

The Climate Change Action Plan for the Florida Reef Tract was developed through a multi-year stakeholder engagement process that included representatives from federal, state, and local government, as well as conservation organizations and local fishing and tourism businesses (Score 2010). The plan prioritizes 40 actions to reduce the effects of climatic and non-climatic stressors on the entire reef system, including regional disturbance response monitoring, marine zoning to protect regional habitat connectivity, and decreasing negative recreational user impacts. The plan was evaluated in 2014-2015. Eighty percent of the actions have been either completely or partially implemented, particularly those actions focused on research and monitoring of climate impacts, water quality, and coral bleaching events (Morgan 2015).


Create New or Enhance Existing Policies or Regulations

This strategy includes creating new policies to address climate change or mainstreaming it into existing legislation and regulations, such as those addressing harvest, critical habitat, and species recovery.


The Pacific Fishery Management Council manages the harvest of groundfish (e.g., rockfish, flatfish, roundfish, sharks and skates); salmon (e.g., Chinook [O. tshawytscha] and coho [O. kisutch]); highly migratory species (e.g., tunas, sharks, swordfish, mahi-mahi); Pacific halibut [Hippoglossus stenolepis]; and coastal pelagic species (e.g., anchovy, market squid [Doryteuthis opalescens], sardine, Pacific mackerel [S. japonicas], jack mackerel [Trachurus symmetricus], krill) in the offshore waters of Washington, Oregon, and California. The Council engaged in a seven-year-long process to develop an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management through which to consider species interactions (i.e. predator-prey food web dynamics), habitat, fishing effects on stocks and habitat quality, elements of uncertainty, and the effects of other stressors, including climate change, on fish biology and ecology (Gregg 2010k). The Council formally adopted the current Fishery Ecosystem Plan in April 2013. This plan identifies changes in interannual and decadal variability (e.g., El Niño Southern Oscillation [ENSO], Pacific Decadal Oscillation [PDO]), temperature, pH, oxygen, and upwelling as priority issues influencing fisheries management.

Species Recovery

In 2009, NOAA Fisheries received a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity to list 83 species of coral as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act due to mass bleaching events, destructive fishing practices, pollution, sedimentation, disease, climate change, and ocean acidification (Gregg 2010l). In February 2010, the National Marine Fisheries Service determined that 82 of the 83 species (all except for Oculina varicosa) could qualify for listing as threatened or endangered, and warranted additional scientific review. In September 2014, 20 of the petitioned species were officially listed as threatened, and in October 2015, an additional three coral species were listed as endangered. These species joined elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and staghorn (A. cervicornis) corals, which were listed as threatened in 2006. In 2015, NOAA Fisheries released a recovery plan for elkhorn and staghorn coral, which includes several adaptation measures, including increasing monitoring of disease and bleaching events, reducing local impacts of temperature stress (e.g., shading of reefs, pumping cooler waters onto reefs), researching the viability of land-based rearing and wild re-stocking of species, and testing approaches to culture resistant and/or resilient strains of corals (e.g., disease or biotoxin resistance, thermal or pH tolerance).


Develop & Implement Adaptive Management Strategies

This strategy includes managing for uncertainty through adaptive management and related approaches, wherein managers implement and monitor specific actions to determine what approaches work best and why, and make adjustments to actions that are not effective or as new information becomes available.

Adaptive Management Projects

The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is the largest tidal restoration initiative on the West Coast, created to address extensive wetland loss in south San Francisco Bay from coastal flooding and erosion (Kershner 2010b). Its primary goals are to restore and enhance tidal wetland and pond habitat, buffer the area from sea level rise and flooding, provide flood protection, and enhance water quality. The project is implementing restoration activities in multiple phases, guided by an Adaptive Management Plan; lessons learned from each phase are used to inform future actions in order to create the optimal habitat configuration of tidal wetlands and salt ponds.

Managing for Uncertainty

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has implemented a precautionary approach to manage Arctic fisheries in order to deal with uncertainty surrounding the effects of climate change (Gregg 2010m). The Council manages fish stocks within the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Fishing in the Arctic has not been historically developed because sea ice has blocked passage and access to marine resources in the region; however, as sea ice melts and ocean temperatures increase, opportunities may arise for commercial fishing development in the Arctic. In 2009, the Council adopted the Arctic Fishery Management Plan, which closes the Arctic waters within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Alaska to all commercial fishing activity until sufficient scientific research is conducted to determine the potential effects of new fishing activity in the region. The plan has received support from the U.S. fishing industry, managers, conservation practitioners and groups, and community leaders. In addition, the United States, along with the other four Arctic countries – Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia – signed a joint declaration in July 2015 to prevent high seas fishing in the central Arctic Ocean until science-based management mechanisms are in place (U.S. Department of State 2015).