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Impact of climate and ecosystem change on the California Current forage complex and the fishing communities and predators it sustains

Introduction to the problem: Fish stocks do not live isolated from, but are part of, an ecosystem. Their productivity is intrinsically related to the dynamics of their predators (including fishers), prey and environmental conditions. For management to be most effective under future climate change, management decision frameworks must capture these interactions and we need to understand how such interactions will change or vary in the future.

Rationale and statement of Work: In the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem (CCLME), forage fish are a key trophic link between the planktonic food web and a host of top and mid trophic-level predators. They also support commercially important fisheries. To be able to sustain their mandate of maintaining a resilient CCLME ecosystem and fishing economy under future climate change, fisheries managers require a climate-informed, decision-support tool to evaluate how harvest of forage species impacts ecosystem health, the trade-offs between increasing predator populations and target fisheries, and the performance of management strategies under climate and ecosystem uncertainty. Using multi-model inference, we will quantify climate impacts on ecosystem state and processes in the CCLME (including the uncertainty in such projections) and assess the vulnerability of protected species and fishery participants to projected variability in forage and fishing portfolios, respectively. We will also develop a climate informed ecosystem management strategy evaluation framework to assess performance of current and alternative management strategies under a changing climate, shifting forage species composition, and varying predator populations. Key elements of the proposed workplan are to 1) project forage species habitat distributions in the CCLME under climate change, 2) assess the cumulative effects of multiple environmental and biotic drivers on the abundance and productivity of the forage complex, 3) produce projections of ecosystem state with associated uncertainty under status quo management, 4) assess impacts of climate change on coastal pelagic fishery participants, their portfolio, and the fishing communities they sustain, and 5) compare performance of current single species catch advice versus alternative ecosystem-based catch rules in meeting management objectives, given the potential future impacts of climate change on the ecosystem and fishery participants.

Relevance to the Competition that is being targeted and NOAA’s long-term climate research goals: The proposed project is strongly applicable to the research priorities outlined in this competition, as it will a) build on existing efforts to develop integrated climate, ecological, and socio-economic modeling capabilities to evaluate performance of fisheries management strategies and inform climate-resilient fisheries management, b) improve understanding of how climate variability and change, fishing pressure, and other stressors interact to affect fish stocks and the performance of management strategies under current and future conditions, and c) investigate socio-economic impacts of climate variability and change on fisheries and dependent communities. Furthermore, this project supports NOAA’s long-term climate research goals by increasing capabilities in decision support research designed to advance our understanding of how Earth’s climate system influences sustainability of marine ecosystems and the communities that depend on them, and to foster the application and use of this knowledge to improve the climate resilience of fisheries stakeholders.

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