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Targeted Climate Research Can Benefit Marine Resource Management in the Northeast United States

January 25, 2024

Enhanced warming of the United States northeast continental shelf leads to the development of targeted research methods. This research will help fisheries and protected species management make climate-informed decisions.

Northeast fishing boats New England fisheries video shoot for NOAA and Ocean Media Center. Credit: Ryan Hawk

Over the last decade, the United States northeast continental shelf has warmed faster than any other marine ecosystem in the country. Marine life in the region—ranging from recreational and commercial fish stocks to protected species—have shifted distribution in response to ocean warming.

A new review published in PLOS Climate looks at the proposed process of climate-informed marine resource management of NOAA Fisheries in the northeast United States. It found that targeted research on the relationships between ocean change and marine resources is critical to advance climate-ready marine resource management.

“This review is crucial because it may help other regions and nations understand and overcome their own challenges in the face of climate change,” said Vincent Saba, a research fishery biologist at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, lead author of this research.

map showing the average ocean temperature from 2010-2019 and 1993-2019
Decadal temperature anomaly in the ocean surface (top panel) and ocean bottom (bottom panel) throughout North America. Anomaly is based on the average temperature from 2010–2019 relative to the historical climatology from 1993–2019. Credit: NOAA

NOAA Fisheries Climate Research in the Northeast 

The first phase of informing management with climate information begins with targeted research:

  • Ocean observations
  • Ocean models
  • Focused research on causal relationships between ocean change and the response of marine resources

Targeted research provides management insight into different impacts of historical, forecasted, and projected ocean conditions on marine resources that have existing and upcoming Research Track Assessments.

The second phase, Research Track Assessments may examine one or multiple stocks, or evaluate an issue or new model that could apply to many stocks. They are carried out over several years and can consider extensive changes in data, models, or stock structures. These assessments may provide the basis for future management assessments that include climate and ecosystem information.

The final phase is to inform management and stakeholders with the best available science regarding climate impacts on marine resources. This can include:

  • Management strategy evaluations of climate-informed stock assessment models
  • Ecosystem and socio-economic profiles
  • Ecosystem status reports
  • Scenario planning
  • Vulnerability assessments 

These three phases feedback on each other such that management and stakeholders can request additional data, research, and analyses in phases 1 and 2. 

this graphic shows the process of informing living marine resource management and stakeholders with climate information in the U.S. northeast continental shelf
This graphic shows the process of informing living marine resource management and stakeholders with climate information in the U.S. northeast continental shelf. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Process Overview

Phase 1: Climate, ocean observations, models, and targeted research on the relationships between ocean change and living marine resources, especially those that have upcoming Research Track Assessments.

Phase 2: Research Track that includes new analyses and review of climate influences on key variables used in climate-informed stock assessment models.

Phase 3: Inform management and stakeholders with the best available science regarding climate impacts on living marine resources.

Critical Elements of Climate-Informed Research

NOAA Fisheries is committed to addressing climate change, which impacts every part of our mission. By conducting climate-informed research, we are able to understand how to sustain valuable marine resources, fisheries, and coastal communities.

Climate, Ecosystems, and Fisheries Initiative

NOAA’s Climate and Ecosystem Fisheries Initiative is a NOAA-wide effort to help marine resources and resource users adapt to changing ocean conditions. It uses an operational modeling and decision support system, which will allow us to generate and share information about the impacts of climate change on our oceans. This system will improve our ability to provide marine resource management and stakeholders with the information needed to make climate-informed decisions.

The initiative is responsible for the development of a Decision Support System.

Graphic showing major components of the Initiative's Integrated Modeling and Decision Support System: regional ocean modeling, information hub, regional decision support tools, and decision makers
This graphic shows the Decision Support System and how regional ocean modeling and information support regional decision support teams and decision makers. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Achieving climate-ready marine resource management is a challenging task for all nations that rely on marine resources. Many of the marine ecosystem changes observed today are unprecedented. There is no long-term historical context of management challenges and solutions under a rapidly changing climate.

Climate Research Example

Recent research for the southern New England/Mid-Atlantic yellowtail flounder stock and the northern stock of black sea bass used ocean models to show the impacts of environmental conditions to stock assessments. If approved by the research track working groups, they can enable climate-informed management decisions.

Last updated by Office of Communications on January 26, 2024