A report prepared for Congress by the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommends that National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) work with regional fishery management councils to identify and prioritize opportunities to enhance climate resilience of federal fisheries.
The report to congressional committees, released Aug. 18, found that many fisheries managers are leading initiatives that could advance the use of climate information in operations, such as addressing distributional shifts in species.
Initiatives include the creation of a special task force to identify actions and tools to better incorporate climate information in fisheries management. Several fisheries managers from the eight regional councils told GAO that they were not aware of climate-related fisheries management activities taking place in other regions.
An effort by NMFS to regularly collect and publicly share information on climate-related activities by fisheries managers could help decision makers identify and prioritize resilience measures, the report recommended. One potential opportunity to help address limited data involves the Fisheries Service partnering with the fishing industry to collect information through equipment on commercial vessels.
The GAO is recommending that the Fisheries Service regularly collect and share information on management activities for enhancing climate resilience and work with federal fisheries managers to identify and prioritize these opportunities and develop a plan to implement them. The NMFS agreed with GAO’s recommendations.
The report notes that commercial and recreational marine fisheries are critical to the nation’s economy, contributing nearly $118 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product, and supporting some 1.8 million jobs in 2019 alone. However, fisheries are increasingly vulnerable to changes in ocean waters, including warmer water temperatures, and chemical changes such as increased ocean acidity – changes that are affecting the productivity and distribution of fisheries.
Such changes could have economic consequences for industries and communities that depend on harvesting the affected species, the GAO told the congressional committees. Between 1990 and 2019, Congress appropriated over $1 billion in federal assistance in response to 72 fisheries disaster declarations.
The Fisheries Service generally serves as the lead agency for developing scientific information and management advice for some 460 federally managed fish stocks. Fisheries managers, including the councils, work with NMFS to use this scientific information to develop and implement fishery management plans that establish rules, such as annual catch limits, for management of individual fish stocks.
In 2016, the GAO reviewed federal efforts to address effects of climate change on federally managed fisheries. In its report at the time, GAO recommended that NMFS develop guidance to support implementation of its climate-science strategy and improve performance measures to help track its implementation. NOAA agreed with both recommendations and since then has taken action to address them.
The GAO’s full report is available at https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-22-105132.pdf.