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Researchers Uncover Lessons for Fisheries Management in Changing Climate

Last summer’s ocean heat wave has provided researchers from the University of Maine and Gulf of Maine Research Institute with unique insights into how fishery managers and policymakers might best sustain marine ecosystems in the face of climate change.

The study found the abnormal water temperatures, which were 3 degrees to 5 degrees above the long-term average, caused some species to move north and seek refuge in cooler waters, and others to migrate earlier than usual. These behavioral changes had substantial ramifications for commercial fishermen, affecting both the species variety and the selling price of their catch.

“Longfin squid, which are generally found off the shores of Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey, made their way to the Maine coast,” said Katherine Mills, one of the scientists who published the findings in the June issue of Oceanography. “Local fishermen quickly took advantage of the catch, and new local markets for the squid developed.”

The warmer temperatures also caused Gulf of Maine lobsters to molt about a month earlier than usual, bringing an early start to the summer harvest. While lobstermen proceeded to catch a record number of these crustaceans, the abundance flooded the market and caused the price of lobsters to plummet.

“In order to sustain marine ecosystems, scientists and fishery managers also need to be able to rapidly adjust in response to abrupt changes in climate,” Mills said. “In the paper, we outline a number of recommendations to help them prepare for and react to events like the 2012 ocean heat wave.”

The researchers advocate for development of climate-ecosystem models that link physical changes to biological outcomes and economic impacts. These models would help fishery managers identify and evaluate climate change adaptation strategies.

In addition, they assert that targeted predictive models that take into account multiple real-time data streams would be valuable for supporting fishery management decisions in the era of climate change.

They also state that fishery management processes may need greater flexibility to accommodate and adjust to future climate events. One such example is a responsive permitting structure for commercial fishermen that may be helpful in case one species leaves the area and another species moves in.

Additional collaborators on this research included SUNY Stony Brook and NOAA, as well as researchers from France and Taiwan.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777


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