Northeast Fish and Shellfish Climate Vulnerability Assessment

In the first assessment of its kind, NOAA scientists applied a new methodology to assess the climate vulnerability of 82 fish and invertebrate species in the Northeast region.  The results of the assessment were recently published and are available here.  Similar assessments are also underway for the Bering Sea and California Current Ecosystems. 

Background

Climate-related changes in ocean ecosystems are impacting the nation's marine species and the people, businesses and communities that depend on them. Warming oceans, rising seas, and ocean acidification are impacting marine life and also disrupting fisheries and local economies. These impacts are expected to increase with continued changes in the planet’s climate system.  To help reduce impacts and increase the resilience of marine resources, NOAA Fisheries is assessing the vulnerability of fish species to changing climate and ocean conditions.

About the Vulnerability Assessment

The Northeast Fish Species Climate Vulnerability Assessment uses existing information on climate and ocean conditions, species distributions, and life history characteristics to assess relative vulnerability to changes in species abundance under projected future climate and ocean conditions.  Multiple experts, using an agreed upon set of rules, scored each species as low, moderate, high or very high for its sensitivity to climate change (based on a specific set of life history attributes), its exposure to climate change (the overlap between expected change and its current distribution), and the overall expected directional effect (is the species expected to respond negatively, positively, or neutrally).  Expert scores were then combined and later, in a workshop, the experts shared and discussed their scores before submitting final evaluations.  For each species, there are three main results: 

  1. a vulnerability to shifts in productivity (based on exposure and sensitivity)
  2. a propensity for shifting distribution (based on a subset of the sensitivity attributes)
  3. an overall directional effect (do experts expect the species to respond positively or negatively to expected climate changes) 

Results

Approximately half the species assessed are estimated to have a high or very high vulnerability to climate change in the region including species like sea scallops, lobster, and winter flounder.  Some species may respond positively to projected climate-related changes, such as Atlantic croaker, spot, and black sea bass, among others.

In general, diadromous fish and benthic invertebrate species are predicted to be more vulnerable to climate effects in the ecosystem, and pelagic species are predicted to be the less vulnerable.  The method tends to categorize species that are “generalists” as less sensitive to climate change than are those that are “specialists” (species with specific habitat and prey needs).  For species-specific results, please refer to individual species narratives.

Outcome

The Northeast Fish Species Climate Vulnerability Assessment provides fisheries managers, scientists and decision-makers with information on what fish species may be most vulnerable to changes in abundance and distribution with changing climate and ocean conditions. It is intended to help guide more detailed science and management actions.  Scientists can use these results to identify where additional information is needed to better prepare and respond to climate-related impacts (e.g., stock assessments, research priorities, monitoring).  Managers can use the information on a species’ vulnerability when considering management measures. Explore the results here.