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Adapting to Our Changing Climate

Feb 14, 2014
Stewarding the Ecosystem

The Gulf of Maine is steadily getting warmer, bringing significant changes to both the ecosystem and the economics of the region.

Throughout the summer of 2012, ocean temperatures spiked to 3 to 5 degrees above the long-term average. This ocean heat wave provided us with a glimpse at how species might react to the warm temperatures that are predicted to be the norm by the end of the century.

Working alongside researchers from the University of Maine, Stony Brook University, and NOAA, we found that some species moved north to seek refuge in cooler waters and others migrated earlier than usual. These behavioral changes had substantial impact on commercial fishermen, affecting both the species variety and the selling price of their catch.

Gulf of Maine lobsters, for instance, migrated shoreward about a month earlier than usual, bringing an early start to the summer harvest. While lobstermen proceeded to catch a record number of the crustaceans, the abundance flooded the market and the price paid to lobstermen tanked.

Another response to warming waters is that new species from more southerly waters have begun to appear with greater frequency. Summer flounder, scup, black sea bass, Atlantic mackerel, butterfish, longfin squid, and Illex squid are all now regularly seen in the Gulf.

In order to sustain marine ecosystems, scientists and fishery managers need to be able to rapidly adjust to changes in climate. In a research paper on the 2012 ocean heat wave, we outlined a number of recommendations to help them prepare for and react to a changing climate, such as:

  • Models that link physical changes to ecosystem and economic impacts
  • Using real-time data streams to detect and predict unusual events
  • Greater flexibility in fishery management to accommodate and adjust to future climate events

We also recently published, “Preparing for Emerging Fisheries: An Overview of Mid-Atlantic Stocks on the Move.” This report focuses on the opportunities and challenges associated with seven emerging species in the Gulf of Maine to help fisheries managers prepare for the changes that are headed our way.