Big Data, Big Opportunity for Climate & Fisheries

Announcements | Dec 31, 2019

Our collective ability to accurately assess and forecast fish abundance is critical to the biological and economic sustainability of the Gulf of Maine.

This is an image with a blue background and several simply drawn fish, drawn in white.

In the past, fisheries managers and fishermen alike have relied on fisheries data to help them understand fish abundance, species mix, and location. However, rapid warming in the Gulf of Maine requires the integration of climate, oceanographic, ecosystem, and fisheries data to understand how climate change will influence these factors.

As part of a new research project, a working group led by GMRI Research Scientist Dr. Lisa Kerr will explore new ways to integrate climate and fisheries data to make more accurate predictions about commercially important species.

The project is one of only 43 in the nation to be selected for funding as part of the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator program, which applies a Silicon Valley business accelerator model to science.

“The Convergence Accelerator program asks us to merge data and ideas from different disciplines to solve a problem of national importance,” said Dr. Kerr. “Our case is that the U.S. makes million-dollar decisions about fisheries every year, but those decisions are based on only a fraction of the data.”

This multi-institution collaboration involves external partners from Rutgers, Cornell, and NOAA, as well as a mix of GMRI researchers and community team staff. The project team is also working with fishermen, managers, and seafood businesses in the region to better understand industry needs.

"As waters warm, we know fish populations are going to respond. The more accurately we can predict this behavior, the better we can support the fishermen and fisheries managers who rely on good data to make decisions.

Lisa Kerr, Ph.D. Associate Professor, UMaine School of Marine Sciences

This project is part of our new climate center, which leverages our interdisciplinary expertise to identify solutions to local, regional, and global challenges related to ocean warming.

Convening Climate Experts

Last April, GMRI scientists hosted a modeling workshop for over 30 leading climate, oceanography, socio-economic, and fisheries experts. The group convened to discuss a question at the forefront of fisheries management: How do we account for climate change?

Dr. Lisa Kerr, who chaired the steering committee for the workshop, discusses the group's work:

This is the staff photo for lisa kerr
Lisa Kerr, Ph.D. Associate Professor, UMaine School of Marine Sciences

In the years since we first observed that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than almost any other part of the global ocean, we’ve focused much of our research at GMRI on understanding the impacts of warming on our fisheries. Warmer water causes species shifts and productivity changes, challenging our fisheries management system to adapt to a 'new normal.'

We also know our peers are looking at similar questions, so we called them together for a meeting to talk about our individual research and how we might combine our efforts to address the grand challenge of managing fisheries in a changing climate. Together, we discussed ways to link our otherwise-siloed models of climate impacts, regional oceanography, fish populations, and humans.

Overall, the meeting was an encouraging beginning to an exciting collaboration. Next, we’ll share our ideas with fisheries stakeholders in the region to solicit their feedback on the science they need to inform better decisions in a changing Gulf of Maine.

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