OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Climate change adds uncertainty, new challenges to fisheries management

10/13/2009

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new analysis of fisheries management concludes that climate change will significantly increase the variability of the size and location of many fish populations, creating uncertainty for fisheries managers – and the need for greater flexibility.

Most management processes are slow and cumbersome, as well as rigid, the authors say, and don’t adequately take climate change and human behavior into account.

“What climate change will do is pit the increased resource variability against the rigidity of the process,” said Susan Hanna, a fishery economist from Oregon State University and co-author of the report. “Over time, managers will have to become more conservative to account for the greater uncertainty, and we will need to do a better job of understanding the effect of uncertainty on human behavior.”

The study focuses on seven short international case studies in fisheries management – including Columbia River basin salmon. It is being published in the journal Marine Policy.

Hanna said that while most fishery management models incorporate the latest data on fish populations and distribution, they are not adapted to incorporate climate data. That can be problematic when an El Niño looms, or other oceanic conditions have a negative impact on fisheries. Such was the case in 2005, when a delay in the spring upwelling had a catastrophic effect on ocean production, which many biologists say caused the recent collapse of salmon runs on the Klamath and Sacramento rivers.

Shorter fishing seasons and lower quotas are understandably frustrating for commercial and recreational fishermen, Hanna said.

“Human psychology can work against fishery management because our expectations are based on the high range of fish populations, not the low end,” she pointed out. “In salmon fisheries, the conditions of the 1970s may be taken as the norm, when in fact they represented an all-time high.”

Hanna is a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. She is affiliated with the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station and Oregon Sea Grant, and has served as a science adviser to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

The need for better human behavioral data is acute, Hanna said. While resource managers have plenty of information about numbers of fishermen, where they fish and what they fish for, there is less knowledge about how people will react to changes in regulation – or how they will adapt to climate change.

“We have a history of implementing regulations that have unintended consequences,” Hanna said.

She cites as an example what happens when managers limit the number of boats in a fishery with the idea of limiting fishing effort. The result can be just the opposite, Hanna points out. “A boat limit as the single control over a fishing effort will give those who have the permits the incentive to invest in more speed and more gear to boost their fishing power and become more effective at catching fish.

“Managing resources,” she said, “is all about incentives.”

Management also is becoming more complicated – a situation that may be exacerbated by changes in ocean conditions, whether natural or triggered by humans. There are many groups with claims on salmon resources, Hanna pointed out, from ocean trollers and river gill netters, to Native American tribes and recreational anglers. And management cuts across many boundaries.

In the past, Hanna said, fishermen could adjust to closures or shortened seasons by switching to different species. Now, she says, most fisheries are fully subscribed.

“If it’s a bad year for salmon, you can’t just switch to crabbing or fishing for rockfish unless you have the permits,” Hanna pointed out. “It’s not a question of gear, but of access.”

Hanna said West Coast fishermen are progressive. They contribute to the knowledge base through cooperative research and participate in management decision-making processes.  While some may grumble about regulations, she said, they generally see the need for management and are often in the lead in proposing new management approaches.

“Fishing operations are regulated businesses that fare more successfully the better they are understood,” Hanna said. “We need to do a better job of knowing how fishermen will respond to changes in catch rates and length of season if we want to continue to have sustainable fisheries – because greater uncertainty lies ahead.”

Other authors on the study include Alistair McIlgorm of Southern Cross University in Australia; Gunnar Knapp, the University of Alaska-Anchorage; Pascal Le Floc’H, University of Brest in France; Frank Millerd, Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada; and Minling Pan, of NOAA Fisheries Service in Hawaii.