Scientists are forecasting that climate change will have positive impacts on a multi-million-dollar fishery of the mid-Atlantic coast. Their forecast method could be applied to other fisheries, enabling managers to develop strategies that account proactively for the effects of climate change.
Published recently in Ecological Applications, the study predicts that the Atlantic croaker, which supports a commercial fishery worth $8 million dollars per year, will increase in abundance this century as the ocean grows warmer.
By 2100, the spawning population of Atlantic croaker could increase 60 to 100%, the population center could shift northward as much as 100 kilometers (65 miles), and the maximum sustainable yield could increase 30 to 100%.
To generate these predictions, Jonathan Hare and fellow scientists from NOAA devised a model that links climate change and fishing to abundance of Atlantic croaker. Juvenile croakers spend much of the winter in estuaries. Previous studies showed that wintertime water temperatures in estuaries play a critical role in determining how many juveniles survive to adulthood.
The researchers obtained forecasts of water temperature along the mid-Atlantic coast by averaging the results of 14 different models of ocean circulation. Using these forecasts, Hare’s team predicted impacts on the abundance, distribution, and fishery yield of croakers, incorporating the effects of fishing as well as climate. The scientists repeated this process for three carbon dioxide emission scenarios.
While providing good news for croaker fishermen, the findings expose an urgent need to begin considering climate change as a major factor in fisheries management. According to the scientists,
“Our results demonstrate that climate effects on fisheries must be identified, understood, and incorporated into the scientific advice provided to managers if sustainable exploitation is to be achieved in a changing climate.”
The forecasting method tested in the study could serve as a valuable tool in this future effort.
--by Peter Taylor
Hare, J., Alexander, M., Fogarty, M., Williams, E., & Scott, J. (2010). Forecasting the dynamics of a coastal fishery species using a coupled climate–population model Ecological Applications, 20 (2), 452-464 DOI: 10.1890/08-1863.1