Member Highlight - Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance

Monday, June 16, 2014

Prepared by Boyce Thorne Miller and Brett Tolley. Boyce is a marine ecologist and advisor to NAMA’s board of directors. Brett is from a four-generation commercial fishing family and is NAMA’s community organizer. 

What are the primary challenges and opportunities that climate change presents for fisheries?

When it comes to fisheries, the changing air and ocean temperatures mean that fish species will change locally. In New England, species that prefer cold water and are living near the southern extreme of their range will either disappear or become less healthy and less populous. Other species that are near the northern extreme of their range will begin to thrive and become relatively more important at the local level. For example in southern New England, species like black sea bass and summer flounder previously lived south of the region and are now moving north and doing well in the warming waters.

This will present a great challenge to fisheries management because the population dynamics of each species will be different, meaning the old models for determining health of populations and appropriate fishing levels will not be correct. We've always questioned the wisdom of managing fisheries on a species by species basis and suggested that we take a more holistic, ecosystem-based approach. Climate change will show everyone why single species management is such a bad idea!

What initiatives is NAMA undertaking to address some of these challenges and opportunities?

We work to promote ecosystem based management over single-species management plans.  We work to get smaller scale fishermen to have a greater voice in fisheries policies and management.  They are and will be the first to see the impacts of climate change and they are the key to effective ADAPTIVE management -- something the National Marine Fisheries Service supports and does not implement.

Also, smaller-scale fishermen are better able to adapt their gear and diversify their fishing practices in order to adjust to the shifting species and seasonality. But this needs to be complimented by both policies and a seafood market that is willing to accept what is in season, rather than the same seafood 365 days a year. We’re working to create models like Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs) and Boat-to-Institution that promotes these concepts.

What are NAMA’s goals for the future surrounding climate change adaptation and mitigation? 

Ecosystem based management, fair prices for fishermen, direct marketing, equal valuation for all fisheries species (including those "new on the block" due to climate change), so that different species can be profitably caught when they are most abundant instead of when they are most threatened, adaptive management, management that favors small scale fisheries

How do small-scale or community-based fisheries help the marine ecosystem?

Smaller scale fisheries can adapt much more nimbly to changes in the fisheries ecosystem, if management will allow them to do so.  Adaptive management based on real-time assessments and estimates of changing fish populations is the key to adjusting to the impacts of climate change.  Big companies and current management are not able to respond quickly or effectively and as a consequence will increase rather than adapt to the stress of climate change on the biological community.

Many consumers don’t think of fish’s seasonality in the same way they do with fruits and vegetables. How does NAMA raise public awareness around this issue?

NAMA has fostered the development of CSF's, which now has legs of its own and has spread across the country.  CSF's provide a forum for fishermen to introduce themselves to their communities/regions, and to teach consumers about different fish that are available at different times of the year.  It also draws customers away from internationally marketed seafood and the habit of favoring only a few species and demanding particular species anytime they want them.

We also host Seafood Throwdown events which help raise awareness, connect the public closer to the source of their seafood, and allow us to talk about the health of the ocean and fisheries in a fun and enjoyable atmosphere.

What types of policy would NAMA like to see to support the marine ecosystem? 

Community based fisheries with ecosystem-based management sensitive to the scale and location of fishing operations.  Currently federal regulations and management by NMFS favors large scale operations and single-species management without sensitivity to location and ecosystem processes.