Wednesday, September 7, 2011

AFS - Seattle, September 6 - Connecting Climate Science to Fisheries Management

Well, that's an interesting challenge! Climate scientists, ecosystem modelers, and fisheries biologists and managers came together here at the AFS meeting in Seattle yesterday to discuss the challenges facing managers as they try to incorporate climate science in management. It became clear through the course of the presentations that there is broad consensus that climate influences fisheries, and that we would like to get to a place where we can understand these linkages well enough to predict the future. However, it also became clear that we have a long way to go to get there!
Anne Hollowed, from the National Marine Fisheries Service in Alaska, discussed how climate can influence the phenology of ecosystem events, the distribution of species, species interactions, and species vital rates. Ultimately, all of the complex physical, biological, ecological, and physiological interactions must be considered in predicting the influence of climate on ecosystems.
A more specific example was given by Jeff Napp (Univ. Washington) who explained that in the Bering Sea, scientists understand that physical processes, in particular sea ice, structure the marine ecosystem. He described a system where climate variability drives changes in marine communities that oscillates between two very different states (for more information, go to This information has been used alongside traditional stock indices to inform management for Alaskan Pollock. This is one of the only examples I'm aware of where ecosystem indices inform management.
Michael Alexander, from NOAAs Earth Systems Laboratory, brought things to a larger, and longer scale and explained that climate predictions come with a great deal of uncertainty, that is compounded by our incomplete knowledge of climate systems, marine ecology, and the connections between the two. He emphasized that the same climate models run over a longer time period, predict very different outcomes for the same location. Charlie Stock, from NOAA's Princeton, GeoFluid Dynamics Lab, emphasized how difficult it is to predict climate 10+ years down the road.
So, where do we go from here? The group discussed where "low" and "high" hanging fruit might be found. It was suggested that scientists may want to focus on short-term predictions rather than a longer-term response to climate change although it is unclear which is more challenging! In the mean time, it seems that the use of climate and ecosystem indices described by Jeff Napp in the Bering Sea gives us a good model of how climate science can inform management today - I wonder if there are other examples where our knowledge of climate and marine ecosystems is good enough to inform management as well?
-Erik Chapman

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