ELLSWORTH — After years of preparation, NOAA Fisheries last Friday released five “regional action plans” to guide implementation of the agency’s national climate science strategy over the next five years.
The regions covered include the Northeast, Southeast, Pacific Islands, West Coast and Alaska.
The waters off the Northeastern states are among the fastest warming of the world’s oceans. Marine species from plankton to the largest whales are affected as a variety of ecosystem components — habitat, food webs, water temperatures, wind patterns — respond to climate change.
NOAA’s regional action plan for the Northeast addresses the Continental Shelf ecosystem, which extends from Maine to North Carolina and from the headwaters of local watersheds to the deep ocean. It was developed jointly by NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole and the Greater Atlantic Region Fisheries Office in Gloucester, with input from a variety of sources.
Its goal is to provide “timely and relevant information on what’s changing, what’s at risk and how to respond,” according to NOAA. That information is “key” to minimizing the effects of climate change on the region.
“We are excited to release the Northeast Regional Action Plan, which was developed with input from many partners in the region,” Jon Hare, lead author of the plan and the director of NOAA Fisheries’ Northeast Fisheries Science Center, said in a statement announcing the release of the plan.
The plan lays out several priorities for tracking change, forecasting conditions, assessing risks, and evaluating strategies for managing resources under changing conditions. Fifteen actions are identified as necessary to meet the demand for information to better prepare for and respond to climate-related impacts on marine resources and resource-dependent communities from North Carolina to Maine.
“Conditions on the Northeast Shelf are changing rapidly, so it is critical that we understand how that is affecting this ecosystem. That’s important for fisheries management, for protected species conservation, and for coastal communities that are closely tied to the ocean,” John Bullard, NOAA Fisheries regional administrator for the Greater Atlantic, said after the plan was released. “There are challenges, but this plan highlights the efforts already under way and those that are planned to help us better prepare for and respond to a changing environment.”
The several regional plans represent NOAA Fisheries’ response to the increased demands for information on “what’s changing, what’s at risk and how to respond to climate-related changes in marine and coastal ecosystems,” the agency said in its announcement last week.
The fishing industry, resource managers and coastal communities all look to NOAA Fisheries to provide information on changing conditions that can serve as a basis for practical actions. The plans are designed “to increase the production, delivery and use of scientific information required to fulfill NOAA Fisheries’ mandates in a changing world,” the announcement said.
Each plan identifies specific actions to address priority information needs identified by the agency itself, regional Fishery Management Councils and others. Those actions will, it is hoped, help track changes, assess risks, provide early warnings and forecasts, and provide decision-makers with the information they need to evaluate the best management strategies to reduce impacts to their regions and increase the resilience of our nation’s marine resources and the communities and businesses that rely on them.