Fast-Warming Atlantic to Get New Climate Strategy

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration requests public input on its draft action plan to address climate change threats to its northeast fisheries and protected species. The plan was developed in response to increasing demand for science-based information to aid in preparing for and responding to climate-related impacts, the agency said.
     Each of the agency’s five fisheries regions will have a climate science action plan to implement the NOAA Fisheries Climate Science Strategy, which noted that whether or not climate change was “just a theoretical possibility” for some people, fishermen are already feeling climate change impacts. For example, higher temperatures caused the price to collapse for Maine lobsters in 2012, as the lobsters started their migration a month early and grew to market size much faster than usual, the agency said.
     It is not just fisherman, coastal communities that depend on tourism, and other impacts on people and businesses that are the subject of the draft action plan, the agency noted. Ocean warming and acidification are also affecting species protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, including corals, sea turtles, whales and salmon, among many others.
     “Warming oceans, rising seas, and ocean acidification are affecting marine life and also disrupting fisheries and local economies. We hope this plan will help us provide the kind of information needed to support actions that will ensure sustainable fisheries and coastal communities in this time of great change,” Bill Karp, Director of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, said.
     The Northeast region is one of the fastest warming areas in the world’s oceans, NOAA said. It includes the area from Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, the western end of the Scotian Shelf, the Mid-Atlantic Bight, Southern New England, Georges Bank, and the Gulf of Maine. It is also where one of the most endangered whales, the North Atlantic right whale, is found. According to the draft plan, “climate change may also impact the productivity of some marine mammals. For example, decreases in prey abundance may reduce productivity of North Atlantic right whale,” not good news for a species with a population of less than 450 animals.
     “Fish, shellfish, marine mammal, and sea turtle populations are already responding to this changing environment, which is also affecting habitats that these species use, predator-prey relationships, and competition in the ecosystem,” the agency said.
     NOAA, the federal agency tasked with management of the nation’s fisheries and marine sanctuaries, and the protection of imperiled marine species, is also responsible for climate monitoring. According to the agency’s announcement, the draft plan is to increase the production, delivery and use of climate-related scientific information in these management efforts.
     “This plan builds on the work already underway in the region to address climate change,” Jon Hare, of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center and lead author of the plan, said. “For instance, we’ve been leaders in long-term monitoring needed to explain change, linking stock assessment and climate models, and working toward an ecosystem-based understanding of sub-regions like Georges Bank. We are also providing biannual and annual state-of-the-ecosystem reports to federal fishery managers to support their efforts to implement fishery management in a more holistic way, accounting for ecosystem factors as well as the biology of the fish.”
     The agency requests information and comments by July 29.

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