New paper sheds light on fisher strategies for shifting stocks

Published on
August 2, 2021
Gulls swarm a North Carolina trawler operating at sunset.

New research from Rutgers University has investigated community and fisher strategies for adapting to stocks changing as a result of ocean warming.

The paper, "Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost – Responses of Fishers’ Communities to Shifts in the Distribution and Abundance of Fish," focused on the groundfish trawl fishery in Northeast U.S., an area that is already seeing warming temperatures and is considered a hotspot for the effects of global warming.

Researchers considered fishing records and data as well as ecological surveys, and conducted interviews to better understand adaptation strategies of fishers and communities. The types of responses to shifting stocks were broken down into three categories: fishers shifting fishing grounds, shifting target species, and shifting port of landing.

The most common response was a shift in target species and a change in catch composition. While this may be the easiest shift for harvesters to make on the water, the paper found that regulations and markets often constrained the ability to take advantage of a changing mix of species within fishing grounds.

Another challenge for this strategy, the paper discovered, is the decreasing diversity of landings and species in markets. This constrains the flexibility of harvesters who want to remain on traditional fishing grounds, researchers said.

In light of the fluke fishery – with its high value and need to land the catch in high quotas –  states in the U.S. South were cited as drivers for a shifting port of landings strategy.

Following the fish was the least-common response and only one community engaged in this activity: the large trawlers of Beaufort, North Carolina, U.S.A. 

Beyond regulation and landing quotas, the paper noted that a community’s relationship with traditional fishing grounds and the perceived cyclical nature of fisheries and environmental influences also impacts which strategies are employed by communities, if any. The paper concluded that shifting stocks and application of inappropriate strategies may leave some fishing communities vulnerable in the future.

Photo courtesy of Kyle Bagley/Shutterstock

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