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NOAA strategy aims to fold climate change into fisheries management

via National Marine Fisheries Service
The NOAA plan explores ways to quantify and regulate around climate-based impacts to the nation's fisheries, like this.

Delaware regulators say a new plan to fold data about climate change into fisheries management is good in theory -- but could be tough in execution.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its five-year Climate Science Strategy in late August. It covers how warming oceans and other changes are affecting marine resources coast-to-coast -- in ways most fishermen and regulators are already seeing. And it proposes ways to quantify those impacts as part of how fish stocks are managed year-to-year.

"As fisheries managers, we definitely acknowledge that something is happening -- some large process is happening here that's affecting fish distributions," says DNREC biometrician Rich Wong. In his 15 years in fisheries management, he says he's seen fish populations move north in a way that he wouldn't have expected to see in a lifetime.


But, he says, "we do not currently fold into our assessment process the temperature rise."


That's partly due to the complexity of climate change -- which crosses state lines and takes place over variable time scales, unlike fisheries management, which goes state-by-state and year-by-year. Plus, the fish are moving too -- and the climate isn't all that affects them.


"It's very difficult to incorporate that into an already uncertain mixture of elements that affect how populations change through time," Wong says.


Wong works with high-value mid-Atlantic fisheries like blue crab -- which he says could be hard to manage based on climate change the way NOAA is proposing. The new strategy focuses in large part on vulnerable species -- but Wong says crab might actually benefit, rather than suffering as the oceans warm.


But he says more research can always help, as Delaware braces for a necessary sea change in how fish are managed. That research is part of the federal plan, as NOAA looks ahead to working with regional and local managers a few years down the line.


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