Study Urges Planning Ahead in Changing Climate to Protect Fish and Fisheries

A new study released by Rutgers University says advance planning that accounts for climate change will result in better safeguards for the future of marine fish and commercial fisheries.

Many commercially valuable fish species are already moving north, disrupting fisheries and exacerbating international fisheries conflicts, notes Malin Pinsky, an associate professor at Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, in New Brunswick, N.J.

“We don’t need perfect information,” said Pinsky, who led the study. “We know we can’t predict right now where different species will be at certain times in the future. Just trying to get it somewhat right is a lot better than sticking our heads in the sand.”

What he is hoping for, said Pinsky, is that the study will prove motivation for more coordination for fishing and conservation, energy development, shipping and oil and gas development. “The ocean has become really busy,” he said. “IF we don’t plan ahead, we may only be able to conserve half of the fish species by the end of the century. There is a more effective way to do this. We are trying to show that everyone benefits by planning for species on the move.”
Study results published by Rutgers in the journal Science Advances focused on the costs and benefits to marine species of planning ahead. They simulated the ocean planning process in the United States and Canada for conservation zones, fishing zones and wind and wave energy development zones. Researchers looked at nearly 12,000 different projections for where 726 species around North America will move over the rest of this century, and potential tradeoffs between meeting conservation and sustainable fishing goals now rather than later.

“We were worried that planning ahead would require setting aside a lot more of the ocean for conservation or for fishing, but we found that was not the case,” Pinsky said. “Instead, fishing and conservation areas can be set up like hopscotch boxes so fish and other animals can shift from one box into another as they respond to climate change.”