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Stakeholder engagement in management strategy evaluation of New England groundfish in a changing ocean

Once a driving economic force supporting coastal communities, the multi-species groundfish fishery in New England is at a crossroads. Several species of the groundfish complex are at record low abundance and evidence suggests future adverse effects on these stocks due to climate change. The tension between conservation and industry objectives for this fishery is strong and presents a challenging backdrop upon which to plan for a future fishery that is resilient in the face of change. Co-development of a long-term strategy for the groundfish fishery in a changing Gulf of Maine by stakeholders is needed.

NOAA has engaged our project team to develop models that predict the effectiveness of alternative groundfish management strategies under various future climate scenarios and uncertainties.This is a critical first step, but without deliberate stakeholder education and engagement this management strategy evaluation (MSE) process cannot reach its full potential. MSE is a vehicle for participatory decision-making and co-development of management strategies with stakeholders will increase the realism of model scenarios, improve trust in the process, and increase the likelihood of implementation of adaptive harvest strategies by managers.

The goal of this project is to provide climate intelligence to fisheries stakeholders in the Northeast groundfish industry and develop stakeholders’ capacity to participate in MSE processes that address climate challenges to their fishery. We will address this goal through stakeholder engagement and research that characterizes what different participants learn through the process. We will utilize ongoing groundfish MSE work as a tool for communicating the predicted impacts of climate change on the groundfish resource and fishery. We aim to achieve three objectives related to stakeholder engagement: 1) increase stakeholder understanding of the impacts of climate change on the groundfish resource, fishery, and management system, 2) develop stakeholders’ capacity to participate in MSE processes, and 3) elicit stakeholder perspectives on the application of MSE to the groundfish fishery in a changing ocean. In addition, we aim to achieve three research objectives: 1) characterize stakeholder learning on climate-fisheries impacts and MSE from each workshop, 2) document lessons learned by the science team and develop best practices for engaging stakeholders in a climate-informed MSE process, and 3) integrate stakeholder feedback into groundfish MSE and evaluate the performance of suggested alternative management procedures. We propose a series of four workshops, with associated research activities occurring between meetings, to achieve our objectives.

This research addresses the objectives of NOAA’s COCA program for focused projects Supporting Resilient Fishing Communities in the Northeast Region. This work will directly address the call to “help build capacity of fishing communities along the U.S. Northeast coast to assess socio-economic risks and impacts of climate-driven changes in marine ecosystems to inform adaptation planning and management decisions”. Participants will gain a better understanding of the MSE process and give them the necessary tools to directly participate in shaping the vision for their future fishery. Stakeholder input is expected to improve the realism of the MSE, acceptance of MSE results, and effectiveness of the process for meeting the objectives of U.S. stakeholders.

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