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Ecosystem Management and Climate Strategies in the Mid-Atlantic

Jun 11, 2015
2015 Issue 1

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) has adopted an ecosystem approach to fisheries management (EAFM), which will incrementally incorporate biological, economic, social, and physical ecosystem components into policies, without drastically changing existing management plans. To support this transition, Council staff are developing an EAFM guidance document that will provide Council members with a framework for considering policy choices and trade-offs in an ecosystem context. The document will be a synthesis of a series of a workshops (and subsequent policy papers) hosted by the Council, which will cover a range of topics, including forage fish, climate change, species interactions, and habitat and management considerations.

Most recently, the Council presented the second of these workshop papers at their February meeting. This white paper aims to address a myriad of topics, including the status of current climate science, the effects of climate on fish stock distribution and productivity and social and economic assessments, and management implications. Most notably, the paper includes Ways Forward, which offer strategic options for incorporating climate change into management decisions. Key suggestions offered are summarized below:

Risk Assessments: Conduct risk assessments to assess which species/stocks are most vulnerable to climate change. Assessments should consider not just biological and physical parameters, but social and economic ones as well. An understanding of which stocks are most vulnerable will allow managers to prioritize their efforts in the case of limited resources.

Climate Factors in Stock Assessments: Inter-annual variability in productivity is better explained by environmental shifts than the relationship between biomass and productivity. As such, stock assessments should incorporate both the direct and indirect effects of oceanographic and environmental conditions on a stock. An example of this is the 2014 butterfish assessment, in which bottom temperature data and oceanographic models were used to account for how changes in thermal habitat may affect availability of butterfish.

Management Strategy Evaluations (MSEs): Using MSEs to evaluate policy alternatives that incorporate multispecies or ecosystem models will allow managers to see a plan’s ability to achieve biological, social and economic objectives as conditions change due to climate.

Climate Tools: Efforts to compile and communicate environmental data relevant to a changing climate, such as the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s ecosystem status updates, must continue and grow. From this data models and tools could be developed to help better understand climate change impacts and to inform management.

Council Risk Policy: Buffers applied to overfishing limits reduce the risk of overfishing, and should be adjusted according to climate factors. For instance, buffers should be increased for climate-sensitive stocks and possibly decreased if a stock assessment incorporates climate directly.

More information pertaining to the Council’s EAFM document and corresponding workshops and paper can be found at The next MAFMC workshop will focus on species interactions, and will be held this summer.