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Crafting Guidance for Adapting to Shifting Fish Populations

Climate change is altering the distribution of marine species, causing many to shift away from traditional fishing grounds. When a stock shifts, managers must decide whether to reallocate access based on its new location. This can pose challenges, such as difficult trade-offs between fairness and economic efficiency. For example, it might be considered fair to preserve the access rights of the fishermen who currently target the stock, but it might be more economically efficient to reallocate access to fishermen who operate nearer to its new location.

Thus, the Lenfest Ocean Program is supporting Andrew Pershing, with co-investigators Lisa Kerr and Jonathan Labaree from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) to systematically review how different types of fisheries allocation systems have adapted under changing conditions. They will then use their observations to develop guidance and gather feedback from fishermen and managers, to inform ongoing deliberations over managing shifting stocks in the U.S. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

Developing guidance based on experience

Fishery management systems have responded differently to the challenge of shifting fish stocks. For example, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which oversees summer flounder in the United States, allocates a fixed proportion of the total allowable catch to each state, but it allows fishermen to catch flounder anywhere, provided they bring it to port in their home states. In contrast, U.S. and Canadian managers reallocate Georges Bank haddock between the two countries to align with the shifting distribution, but they do not let fishermen cross the international boundary to fish.

In this project, the research team will characterize different types of allocation systems used across multiple fisheries and policy contexts around the world, and compare their experiences adapting to shifting stocks. The research team will then describe a range of options for adaptation, along with guidance on the benefits and challenges of each. The researchers will also convene an advisory body of managers and stakeholders in the U.S. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to share preliminary findings and get feedback.

The research plan

The research project will have four phases:

  1. Develop categories. The team will create categories of responses to shifting stocks by surveying research and policy documents from the United States, the European Union, Norway, Canada, Australia, and potentially elsewhere. Categories may be based on factors such as who receives the allocation (e.g. states, groups of fishermen, or individuals), the basis for allocation (e.g. past landings, auction, negotiation), and whether fishermen are allowed to cross jurisdictions to fish.
  2. Categorize fisheries. The researchers will assign major fisheries around the world into one of the categories created in phase 1. In addition to analyzing management plans and related documents, the team will interview key participants in each fishery.
  3. Identify benefits and challenges.  The team will identify fisheries that have undergone climate-related shifts and compare and contrast their responses. They will then relate these responses to the categorization from phase 2 to explore the benefits and challenges of each allocation system.
  4. Evaluate options. The researchers will hold a series of focus groups with fishery stakeholders in the U.S. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to gather input on options for adapting to shifting fish stocks. These discussions will follow GMRI’s “Fish Tank” format, an informal convening intended to elicit open exchange and creative ideas.  The final output will be an evaluation of a range of allocation options, informed by stakeholder feedback.

The project will continue through 2021. It aims to produce two peer-reviewed publications that discuss climate stressors and classify different allocation schemes. The research team also aims to present its guidance for adaptation to shifting stocks directly to management bodies in the U.S. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.