Study: Planning will better protect fisheries during climate change

Researchers considered 726 species around North America

A new study published in the journal Science Advances concludes that by planning ahead in the face of rapid climate change conservation of fish and other marine life in warming ocean waters will prove more effective.

“Sticking our heads in the sand doesn’t work,” said Malin Pinsky, an associate professor in Rutgers University’s School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and lead author of the study, whose contributors included the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “Effective ocean planning that accounts for climate change will lead to better safeguards for marine fish ad commercial fisheries with few tradeoffs. We are trying to show that everyone benefits by planning for species on the move.”

As ocean traffic increases, with more shipping, energy development, fishing, and conservation efforts, plus recreational and other uses, planning efforts that set aside areas of the ocean for such uses are underway on all seven continents. Still these efforts typically do not take into account impacts of climate change.

“We don’t need perfect information,” Pinsky said. “We know we can’t predict right now where different species will be at certain times in the future. Just trying to get it somewhat right is a lot better than sticking our heads in the sand.”

His hope, Pinsky said, is that there will be more motivation for more coordination in fisheries and conservation, energy development, shipping and oil and gas development as the ocean becomes busier.

“Some of these choices we are making, including wind farms, will last for decades or longer,” he said. “They have implications for fishing and recreational opportunities. If we don’t plan ahead we may only be able to conserve one half the fish species by the end of the century.”

Researchers led by Pinsky focused on costs and benefits of planning ahead for the impact of climate change on marine species. The research team simulated the ocean planning process in the United States and Canada for conservation zones, fishing zones and wind and wave energy development zones. Then they looked at nearly 12,000 projections for where 726 species around North American will likely move during the rest of this century. They also considered potential tradeoffs between meeting conservation and sustainable fishing goals now versus in 80 years.

The detailed study, entitled “Ocean planning for species on the move provides substantial benefits and requires few tradeoffs,” was published by Science Advances in December on the EurekAlert website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Contributors to the study included scientists from the NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Stanford University, East Carolina University and the University of Bern.