Recommendations released for fisheries managers to help adapt to climate change

Published on
September 16, 2022
University of California - Santa Barbara's campus.

The University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) has released new research providing key recommendations for helping U.S. fisheries adapt to impacts by climate change and, ultimately, protect the livelihoods of fishermen.

The research evaluated management of over 500 fisheries across the United States to generate design recommendations for harvest-control rules (HCRs) – guidelines to determine how much of a stock can be fished based on indicators of the targeted stock’s status. These recommendations aim to ensure sustainable fisheries and fishing communities in a changing climate.

“Our report lays out impactful steps fisheries managers can take now to help improve the climate resilience of the nation’s fisheries and the communities that depend on them,” said report lead author Chris Free, a research scientist at UCSB.

With U.S. fishing communities already dealing with impacts of climate change, the UCSB report aims for actionable recommendation to aid in the long and short term.

"These uncertain and changing conditions in the seafood industry call for several adjustments. The first recommendation is to adjust fishing rates based on stock status rather than a certain percentage by using ramped harvest control rules to help avoid overfishing," Free said. "Managers also need to adapt and finetune the precautionary buffers that are set lower than the maximum stock that can be caught before overfishing occurs."

The study further recommends that even when tight budgets don't allow for full stock assessments, there are indicators fisheries managers can use to determine stock health, such as an ecosystem monitoring surveys, to create harvest control rules. In short, “some rules are better than none.” Furthermore, instead of basing HCRs specific to a single species, the study recommends managers consider catch limits accounting for interactions between many species within the ecosystem.

The study also recommends using tools such as a climate vulnerability assessment to determine catch limits that take climate change into account, even for data-limited stocks. This is followed by the recommendation to base harvest rules on stock abundance data and to deprioritize rules that are explicitly incorporating environmental factors such as species that do better under specific or certain environmental conditions and adjusting harvest strategies on those conditions.

Lastly, the study suggests a need to compare strategies. They recommend a tool called management strategy evaluation (MSE) to help managers and stakeholders compare how different harvest strategies can help fisheries meet their goals and the comparative risks associated with each.

The research by UCSB comes at an important time as it follows the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) calls for regulators to take action on climate change in fishery management plans. The report from the GAO explains that collaboration between U.S. fishing communities and federal workers with regional management bodies in order to improve data streams and use climate information in fisheries management decision, can enhance fishery resilience.

In order to enhance climate resilience, the GAO report further recommends federal fishery managers collect and share information on fishery management activities and to work with the regional fishery management councils to aid in identifying and prioritizing climate resilience opportunities and developing plans to implement them.

Photo courtesy of Claudine Van Massenhove/Shtutterstock 

Contributing editor reporting from Hawaii, U.S.A.

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