New Mapping and Analysis Portal Helping NOAA Track Marine Species 

Image via NOAA Fisheries.

A new Distribution Mapping and Analysis Portal (aka DisMAP) is giving NOAA Fisheries a clearer picture of the way many marine species are shifting expanding and contracting in response to changing ocean currents. 

NOAA officials announced the new tool in mid-April, saying the website would improve data sharing and collaboration facilitate decision-making about fishery management and science and boost overall knowledge of species distribution for stock assessments. 

The portal displays data from NOAA Fisheries bottom trawl surveys for five regions, including the Northeast, Southeast, Gulf of Mexico, West Coast and Alaska. It includes a map viewer and graphing capabilities for over 800 marine fish and invertebrate species caught during the surveys. 

Understanding how species are distributed in space and time and the factors that drive patterns are central questions in ecology and important for species conservation and management. NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad noted that changes in climate and oceans are affecting the distribution and abundance of living marine resources in the water.  

“Changes in fish stocks can have significant economic and cultural impacts for communities and businesses across the U.S.,” Spinrad said. “The visualization capabilities of this new tool boost our ability to turn the data NOAA collects into robust decision-making resources for the entire fishery management community, helping build a climate-ready nation.” 

The portal allows users to select a species of interest and visually examine changes in the distribution over time by looking at both location maps as well as graphs of key indicators of a species distribution, such as change in latitude, depth and range limits. The user can also choose to view changes in distributions at the regional level as an indicator of broader community level changes. 

NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Janet Coit said this is one of the most important actions NOAA Fisheries has taken to date to move toward climate-ready fisheries management. 

 “Changes in species distributions are already having significant impacts on key management decisions such as allocations and spatial closures,” Coit said. “These impacts are expected to increase with continued changes in the planet’s climate and ocean systems.” 

The new tool was developed in collaboration with theGlobal Change Ecology and Evolution Lab at Rutgers University to enhance the ability of NOAA Fisheries and its management partners to identify, plan for and respond to climate-driven changes now and in the future. 

Additionally, increased access to species distribution information and model results from across the nation is expected to help foster a “community of practice” among scientists, which could help advance the field, as well as provide a useful tool for outreach and education regarding changing fish and invertebrate distributions.