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Development of robust management strategies for Northeast groundfish fisheries in a changing climate

The Northeast U.S. Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem (NESLME) has warmed over the last decade, with a long-term warming trend that is four times the global average rate and recent decadal warming that is faster than 99.9% of the global ocean. Climate-mediated change in this region is unprecedented, and the impacts of climate change on marine fisheries resources, such as changes in productivity, are increasing. Once abundant and supporting a profitable fishing industry, some groundfish stocks in the NESLME, such as Georges Bank cod, have declined to record-low biomass in recent years, whereas others, such as Georges Bank haddock, have increased to record-high biomass. Shifts in the productivity of Northeast groundfish may reflect individual species responses to recent warming and associated oceanographic changes. The goal of our proposed research is to develop fisheries management procedures that consider climate-driven changes and evaluate whether they result in more adaptive, successful management of groundfish species given forecasted climate change in the NESLME. Our proposed research will: 1) evaluate how principal groundfish stocks will respond to regional climate change, 2) investigate plausible approaches to tailoring fisheries management procedures to the prevailing environmental state, including climate-informed or climate-responsive stock assessments, biological reference points, and harvest control rules, and 3) quantify the expected ecological and economic performance of alternative fisheries management procedures in a changing climate. We will apply Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) to address our objectives. At the center of our MSE approach will be a series of operating models that incorporate mechanistic relationships between life history processes and temperature to simulate the population dynamics of two principal groundfish stocks (i.e. Georges Bank Atlantic cod and haddock stocks). These models will be simulated under alternative temperature scenarios that capture future projected climate change in the NESLME. We will then simulate sampling these stocks through the fishery and through scientific surveys. The simulated data will be used to assess the stocks using standard stock assessment models and models that allow for non-stationarity or incorporate temperature information directly into process equations. Additionally, we will develop and test biological reference points and alternative methods of advice setting that both capture non- stationarity in aspects of productivity and directly integrate temperature. We will combine economic metrics with biomass-related and yield metrics derived from the MSE to provide a comprehensive view of the economic and ecological risks and returns of the alternative fisheries management strategies. We will develop an interactive web application for synthesizing the results of the MSE and use this as a tool to communicate with stakeholders. This research specifically addresses the COCA priorities of identification and evaluation of robust management strategies, adaptive management processes, and climate-informed reference points. This work will also contribute to key objectives of NOAA’s Next Generation Strategic Plan, including improved understanding of climate change impacts on marine ecosystems and development of strategies to meet the societal challenges associated with these changes. The approaches tested in this project will be shared broadly within the region and the insight gained by this study will be directly applicable to other U.S. fisheries.

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