The environment has never been static, and nature has always been unpredictable. But in the 21st century, change is happening more rapidly than ever before on a global scale.
It is now common in the media to hear that New England fisheries are on the “front lines” of climate change. Extra-warm temperatures in 2012 and 2013 brought a number of highly visible ecosystem changes, such as a flurry of southern species swimming off New England and a set of unusual lobster molting patterns. Fishermen in Maine felt immediate economic repercussions, and their peers elsewhere watched and wondered: What’s going on? Are these new patterns here to stay or will things go back to “normal”? Are fishery management regulations going to let us adapt to ecosystem changes or will we be caught between a variable ecosystem and a rigid management structure?
While things did appear to go back to “normal” in some ways after the summers of 2012-2013, the experience left the fishing industry with some serious questions about its vulnerability in the face of environmental change. The Resilient Fisheries RI project began as an effort to understand these changes and to spur thinking within Rhode Island’s fishing industry about how to proactively adapt to them. But it soon grew into something more.
Discussions among fisheries stakeholders led to the realization that warming waters is an overly narrow framework for understanding changes in the environment. The environment is affected by many factors simultaneously, and singling out any one purported cause of these changes can be misleading, causing stakeholders and observers to miss other vital information and helpful strategies. Manmade global warming, natural temperature and oceanographic cycles, ocean acidification, land use changes, pollution, and of course the impacts of fishing activities themselves all act in tandem to drive change in marine ecosystems. Thus, the question is not only how to adapt to warming waters, but rather, how to structure an industry that is resilient to many types of change — be they environment, economic, regulatory, or something else.
The fact sheets and links below contain overviews of some of the types of change that fishermen in Rhode Island are experiencing (coming soon).
Table: Legislative and non-legislative activities that states and communities can undertake to combat OA locally (from Cooley et al 2016, “Community-level actions that can address ocean acidification.”)