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Helping New England fishing communities adapt

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New England fishing communities must adapt or fail. That’s the advice published in a new study co-authored by UMass Dartmouth scientist Dr. Robert Griffin.

Climate change is altering ocean temperatures, as researchers have previously documented, and entire fish populations are migrating further north or into deeper waters in search of cooler environments. For fishing communities, that means the slow disappearance of species that may be integral to the area’s identity.

For example, lobster in southern New England is migrating out, while black sea bass and Jonah crab have become more abundant.

“[Fishermen] all seemed to understand that this is happening,” Griffin said. “They go out and try to continue to catch the fish they’ve been trying to since they started, but it’s much harder.”


Researchers recommend longterm planning to deal with the changing fish populations, ranging from determining where fishermen should catch their harvest to how they will market the new species to consumers.

This recommendation is based on researchers’ examination of the expected impact of climate change in the next 20 to 30 years on 85 coastal fishing communities. The communities studied are range from North Carolina to Maine.

For communities with the funds, adapting might mean expanding fleets to include larger fishing boats. Larger trawlers can go farther out into the sea, allowing fishermen to follow the species they have traditionally caught. These vessels also would need proper equipment and refrigeration to keep fish fresh as it is transported back to shore.

According to Griffin, who is also a part-time research associate at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, Boston may be at a high risk for changes in seafood resource availability. The risk can be chalked up to a variety of reasons, including current fleet size and traditionally harvested species. According to Griffin, the main takeaway is that the city’s fishing revenue mainly comes from species moving out of the area.


Processing facilities also need to be adapted to work with new species. Crabs, for example, are becoming more common along New England’s coast, but many processors are ill-equipped to extract their meat in an automated way, according to Griffin.

Another solution is to increase consumer desire for new fish species. Griffin cites Eating with the Ecosystem, a Rhode Island-based nonprofit that works with local fishermen and chefs across New England to educate consumers and develop creative ways of serving new species.

“It’s about getting people to have a wide variety of seafood preferences, so we don’t completely deplete a certain species of fish,” Griffin said.

Scientists at Rutgers University, Princeton University, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center also contributed to the study.

Throughout his research, Griffin encountered many fishing communities and has found them to be open to adaptation. However, some don’t have the opportunity or resources to adapt. Take, for example, the fisherman who has a boat specifically outfitted for lobster. When the lobster disappear, that boat is only suitable for catching crabs, which are less profitable than lobsters. Situations like these can drive people out of the fisheries.

“Those are the folks that are probably going to be in the worst place,” Griffin said. “There’s not exactly a lot they can do except ask for assistance to adapt to these changes.”

Ysabelle Kempe can be reached at ysabelle.kempe@globe.com.