PORTLAND — Scientists have been at work trying to understand the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems and fish populations for decades. Now, federal agencies have teamed up to fund research with a broader focus, studying not only the marine resources themselves but also the communities that rely on them as their social and economic lifeblood.
A team at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) has begun a three-year study funded by a $1.3 million National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant to investigate climate change vulnerability among fishing communities in the Northeast United States.
Over the last decade, the Gulf of Maine has warmed faster than 99 percent of the global ocean, according to GMRI scientists. This rapid warming in the Gulf of Maine has researchers looking for ways to help fishing communities adapt as the environment changes.
The project team consists of climate scientists and fisheries ecologists, as well as experts in the fields of resource economics, fishing gear engineering and change management.
Researchers say this interdisciplinary approach is vital to the project’s success.
“We know it’s important to provide ecological information about how climate change will affect various species, but that alone doesn’t necessarily help fishermen or their communities,” Kathy Mills, associate research scientist at the GMRI and lead investigator on the project, said in a statement. “We must also provide communities with information on economic and social impacts and help them evaluate options for adapting their fisheries to a changing ocean.”
Researchers will work to create models of how fisheries ecology and economics interact. Those models, adjusted for local variations in governance, regulation, etc., can then be used to evaluate potential vulnerabilities and on-the-ground adaptation strategies to address them. These strategies might include adjustments to vessel size, fishing gear, targeted species, fishing locations and more.
To start, the GMRI will assess climate impacts and adaptation needs in fisheries across the region and provide specific planning support in four Northeast fishing communities. These towns have not yet been identified, GMRI spokesman Elijah Miller said, but they may not all be in Maine.
As ecosystems around the world face similar challenges, GMRI researchers hope the tools developed though this project can be applied to help both local and global fishing communities.