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Transcript: Fisheries in a Changing Climate

Announcer: Welcome to On the Line, a NOAA Fisheries podcast.

Rich Press: If you go fishing or if you care about the sustainability of fisheries in the U.S., or heck, even if you just enjoy a good plate of seafood every now and again, you'll want to listen to this podcast. Climate change may seem far off in the future to some people, but to people who work in fisheries, it's here and it's already having a big effect. To talk with us a bit about how climate change is affecting fisheries, and about what NOAA Fisheries is doing to help keep our fisheries sustainable, even as the climate changes, we've got Roger Griffis here with us today. Roger is the Climate Change Coordinator at NOAA Fisheries. Roger, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.

Roger Griffis: It's a pleasure to be here.

Rich Press: So, Roger, among the general public, there seems to be a range of beliefs about climate change. Some people think it's already happening, some people are more skeptical, but I get - fortunately I get to talk with fishermen in this job, and when I do, very consistently I hear them say that climate change is happening, it's real, it's happening today. So why is it that fishermen are on the forefront of awareness about this issue?

Roger Griffis: Well, because they're seeing the changes day-to-day. They're seeing different things coming up in their nets. They're seeing different things in their cages. They're feeling the pull and the pulse of the ocean in different ways. I mean, they are the eyes and the ears on the ocean in ways that the rest of us only wish we could be. So, you know, if we look at where our information's coming from, much of it now is coming from fishermen themselves talking about the new species that they're catching that they've never caught before, how they used to catch the majority of Species X and they don't catch those anymore. Species are changing their distribution in response to changing ocean conditions, and the fishermen are seeing it.

Rich Press: Yeah. You know, I speak to scientists all the time here at NOAA Fisheries, and they don't get to spend the amount of time that fishermen get to spend out on the sea, so they talk to fishermen, get a lot of important information from them. You said they're seeing different things coming up in their nets, or not coming up in the nets. Can you give me a few examples?

Roger Griffis: Yeah. Along the East Coast of the U.S., we've seen tremendous changes in distribution of fish stocks over the past 40 years. Lobsters have shifted out of their southern distribution into the Gulf of Maine. Other species like black sea bass and Atlantic croaker have shifted 200 miles northward from their southern distribution. There is quite a scrambling going on of fish stocks along many of our coasts.

Rich Press: So what does that mean for fishermen in terms of making their living, conducting their business? How does that affect them?

Roger Griffis: It potentially has great effects. There used to be quite a lobster fishery in the Long Island Sound. Those lobsters have died off. That population's no longer there. Those fishermen are obviously not catching lobsters anymore. With shifting fish stock distributions northward, fishermen, they have to chase the fish that they're trying to catch farther north, that means longer time on the water, more gas. And then where do they bring it back to. There are only certain ports where they can land the fish. The processors are in certain places, so it has major implications for where they fish, how much they're going to catch, and where they can bring it back to get it processed.

Rich Press: So there are these major shifts in distribution--you described it as a scrambling. And these examples you cited are from the Northeast, but actually the scrambling is happening on all our coasts. So what's going on? Why is this happening and how is it related to climate change?

Roger Griffis: You know, one of the things we need to be very clear about is that the distribution of these species has shifted for millennia. They're very responsive, and they're responsive because, of course, they're ectotherms. That is, their temperature is the water temperature, and they are constantly wanting to be in the right temperature to be able to feed and reproduce. So they – they're very sensitive to temperature, and they've changed as climate and ocean temperatures have changed, you know, on decadal to 100-year patterns. What's happening now, though, that's so concerning is the pace of change in many of these regions. The pace of change, and even the magnitude of the change is quite concerning. Again, on the East Coast, on the Atlantic Ocean, 2012 hit all-time – broke all the records for the warmest ocean temperatures since we've been recording for the past – going back, I don’t know, 100, 200 years. And warming of the temperatures really happened relatively quickly over the past 40 to 50 years, so is this part of the normal pattern? There is certainly part of the normal ups and downs of ocean temperature in that. The real question is, is there more to it than that? And our challenge as a science enterprise is to try and understand both what that normal pattern is but also what the climate change signal is. In either case, fishery management depends on understanding those changes. We're not interested in this just because of climate change but, in fact, we can improve our fishery management practices by better understanding the climate-related signal, whether it be natural or not.

Rich Press: One phrase I hear around here a lot is climate-ready fisheries. I've heard you use that phrase quite a bit. Tell me, what do you mean by climate-ready fisheries?

Roger Griffis: So climate-ready fisheries management incorporates climate-related information and change into all aspects of fishery management. It basically has four main components. The first is sustaining the basics for healthy fisheries, robust populations, habitat for producing more fish. The second is monitor for surprises. We should be expecting changes in ocean systems, both because of natural variability but also because of climate change. The third is plan for a changing future. We know enough now to know and anticipate that there will be changes in oceans and our fisheries. And then fourth is use that information for flexible and responsible fishery management.

Rich Press: Okay, but tell me, if you would, bring it down to the ground level. You explained the basics of climate-ready fisheries, but tell me how or what we're doing to help people in fishing communities adapt to a changing climate.

Roger Griffis: So let me give you a couple examples. First of all we’re keeping our finger on the pulse of the system. Observations from ships, from buoys, from satellites, we’re using high tech observations to track changes in the physics of the ocean, in the chemistry, and in the biological characteristics of these ocean ecosystems. And then we’re pulling all that together in ecosystem status reports to give fishery managers an idea of what’s changing and what might change in the near future. In places like the Bering Sea, the fishery managers are using that information, along with stock assessments, to guide sustainable fishery management practices in that region.

We're also doing vulnerability assessments for all our major fish stocks around the country. These assessments look at what species might be most vulnerable, what might be most sensitive, and then also give some information on why. Is it something about their life history, about the habitat they use? Vulnerability assessments then help fishery managers and fishers understand what to prepare for, what species might be most likely to change in a changing climate. It's a lot like giving coastal communities information about rising seas and what part of the city might be flooded. It's designed to help them start thinking about their risks and what they might do to reduce those impacts.

Rich Press: So, Roger, one question that I would anticipate from fishermen – I talk to fishermen a lot, and I hear them say that they need more flexibility to be able to deal with the changing climate, that the system is set up for them to fish for the fisheries of the past, not for the fisheries of the future, so if we did have fishermen – we're sitting in the office now talking, but if we did have fishermen here, I imagine one would ask the question of what can we do to help make it possible for them to run their business more flexibly in order to adapt? What would you say to them?

Roger Griffis: Yeah, I would agree completely. For example, along the East Coast, a species, the black sea bass, has shifted its distribution significantly, leapfrogged northward. It was more southern and now it's – they're showing up in the Gulf of Maine in tremendous numbers. Well, Maine – the state of Maine doesn't have an allocation to be able to catch black sea bass, and the fishermen there are quite eager to, so the three fishery management councils and the state fishery managers are all looking at how do they reallocate how much each state can take, given that the distribution of the species has shifted over the past 40 years. This is just one of those other implications of changing climate ocean conditions.

Rich Press: So, Roger, what's your vision for the future? If you can think out 20 years or 50 years, assuming that projections are correct and that we're living in a world then that's a lot warmer than it is today, what are your hopes for how fisheries are managed?

Roger Griffis: So my hope is that we're able to track the change and provide early warnings much more effectively than we do today, that we're able to gaze into the crystal ball and provide much more robust projections and outlooks of what the conditions might be, not just two years, but five and ten years from now, that we're tracking the change in marine ecosystems with a whole new generation of technology, undersea drones, sets of buoys, that we have our finger on the pulse of the system and use that effectively in fishery management, and that we're doing it together much more collaboratively than we are now. Fishermen are – as I said in the beginning, they're our eyes and our ears on the ocean, and we're using the information that they're getting more effectively as part of our observing system, and all of that is feeding into a fishery management system that is able to be flexible and responsive in these changing conditions.

Rich Press: All right. Thanks, Roger. Thanks for talking with me.

Roger Griffis: Thank you. Thank you, sir. Sorry, I felt really clunky today.

Rich Press: What, are you kidding? You did great.

That was Roger Griffis, Climate Change Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries. You know, Roger and I spoke about some of the effects of climate change on fisheries, but climate change is affecting all the areas we work in, including protecting marine mammals and endangered species, restoring marine habitats, and of course it has huge implications for the future of the Arctic. To find out more about what NOAA Fisheries is doing to help our nation adapt to a changing climate, check out our podcast website. That's www.fisheries.noaa.gov/podcasts. There you'll find links to more stories about climate science and to the recently released NOAA Fisheries National Climate Science Strategy. Thanks for listening. Join us again next time for more stories about ocean life and ocean science. I'm Rich Press, and you're listening to On the Line.


[Music playing]

You have been listening to the NOAA Fisheries’ Podcast, "On the Line". Join us next time for a firsthand look at the people and the science behind managing our nation’s fisheries. For more information, visit NOAA Fisheries at www.fisheries.noaa.gov.

"On the Line" is a production of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Communications.
 

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