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Shifting Perceptions Of Rapid Temperature Changes’ Effects On Marine Fisheries, 1945-2017

Climate-driven warming has both social and ecological effects on marine fisheries. While recent changes due to anthropogenic global warming have been documented, similar basin-wide changes have occurred in the past due to natural temperature fluctuations. Here, we document the effects of rapidly changing water temperatures along the United States’ east coast using observations from fisheries newspapers during a warming phase (1945–1951) and subsequent cooling phase (1952–1960) of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, which we compared to similar recent observations of warming waters (1998–2017). Historical warming and cooling events affected the abundance of species targeted by fishing, the prevalence of novel and invasive species, and physical access to targeted species. Fishing communities viewed historical cooling waters twice as negatively as they did warming waters (72% vs. 35% of observations). Colder waters were associated with a decrease in fishing opportunity due to storminess, while warming waters were associated with the potential for new fisheries. In contrast, recent warming waters were viewed as strongly negative by fishing communities (72% of observations), associated with disease, reductions in abundances of target species, and shifts in distributions across jurisdictional lines. This increasing perception that warming negatively affects local fisheries may be due to an overall reduction of opportunity in fisheries over the past half century, an awareness of the relative severity of warming today, larger changes in American culture, or a combination of these factors. Negative perceptions of recent warming waters’ effects on fisheries suggest that fishing communities are currently finding the prospect of climate adaptation difficult.

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