Climate Updates and Adaptation

Announcements | Dec 31, 2019

This year, Dr. Kathy Mills and a team of collaborators continued their ongoing work exploring vulnerabilities and responses of Northeast U.S. fishing communities to shifting species.

This image shows several maps that display the biomass changes of certain Gulf of Maine species over different warming scenarios.

Ocean waters on the Northeast U. S. continental shelf have warmed rapidly in recent years, and climate models project this warming will continue.

Associated changes in species distributions and productivity are already affecting fishing communities, as they face declines in traditionally-fished species and the appearance of new species in their fishing areas.

The local impacts of these changes depend on the nature and rate of ecosystem change, patterns of dependence on marine resources, and adaptation capacity and choices. As part of this project, Dr. Mills and her team use climate projections to drive species models as a basis for conducting port-scale assessments of social-ecological vulnerabilities to climate-related species changes.

Simply put, an ecosystem model is a mathematical representation of natural system. We talk a lot about models, modeling, and modelers when we describe our work — and we’re often met with blank (but friendly!) stares. So, if you’ve ever wondered what an ecosystem model is, how it works, or why they’re so important, Dr. Kathy Mills is here to help.

Results of this assessment provide insights into relative vulnerability of fishing communities from Maine to Virginia. In addition, the research team uses fishery-dependent data to evaluate how fisheries are already responding to species shifts and conduct interviews with fishermen and municipal officials to identify adaptation options of interest as changes continue in the future.

Finally, Dr. Mills and her team are considering a suite of adaptation scenarios within economic models to assess the extent to which different adaptation approaches may buffer impacts of species changes and create new opportunities for fisheries in specific communities.

Recent progress on the project includes:

  • Completing ecological analysis that describes and projects species distribution and relative biomass throughout the Northeast U.S. Large Marine Ecosystem under future climate change conditions.
  • Incorporating the ecological analysis results into a coupled ecological-economic model to evaluate economic impacts of species change.
  • Developing community reports to highlight current conditions, projected changes, and potential adaptation opportunities and challenges for four focal communities: Stonington, Maine, Portland, Maine, New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Point Judith, Rhode Island.
  • Meeting with members from each of these communities to discuss our findings and learn more about how community members are thinking about and planning for potential climate-driven changes.

Ultimately, this information will provide a foundation for decision-making and climate adaptation planning at community and regional scales, as well as insights into policy and institutional needs to support the resilience of fishing communities in the context of climate change.

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