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Shifting habitats expose fishing communities to risk under climate change


Climate change is expected to have a profound impact on the distribution, abundance and diversity of marine species globally1,2. These ecological impacts of climate change will affect human communities dependent on fisheries for livelihoods and well-being3. While methods for assessing the vulnerability of species to climate change are rapidly developing4 and socio-ecological vulnerability assessments for fisheries are becoming available5, there has been less work devoted to understanding how impacts differ across fishing communities. We developed a linked socio-ecological approach to assess the exposure of fishing communities to risk from climate change, and present a case study of New England and Mid-Atlantic (USA) fishing communities. We found that the northern part of the study region was projected to gain suitable habitat and the southern part projected to lose suitable habitat for many species, but the exposure of fishing communities to risk was strongly dependent on both their spatial use of the ocean and their portfolio of species caught. A majority of fishing communities were projected to face declining future fishing opportunities unless they adapt, either through catching new species or fishing in new locations. By integrating climatic, ecological and socio-economic data at a scale relevant to fishing communities, this analysis identifies where strategies for adapting to the ecological impacts of climate change will be most needed.

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Data availability

Many of the data analysed in this study are publicly available. NEFSC bottom trawl data may be downloaded from OceanAdapt (https://oceanadapt.rutgers.edu). Landings and price information are available from the NOAA Fisheries, Fisheries Statistics Division (https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/st1/commercial/landings/annual_landings.html). The remaining data and derived quantities that support the findings of this study, including polygons of servicesheds for communities-at-sea, community-level landings data, projected changes in habitat suitability for each species and community risk exposure scores, are archived on the National Science Foundation BCO-DMO repository37,38,39.

Code availability

All analyses were conducted in R v.3.4.4 (ref. 40). Code is available from the corresponding author upon request.


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We thank A. Guerry and M. Ruckelshaus whose insights shaped the early development of this project. We thank NOAA-NEFSC for making data available from bottom trawl surveys and vessel trip reports, particularly M. Fogarty, J. Olson and S. Lucey. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. T. Frölicher helped with processing of the CMIP5 data. Funding for this project was provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the National Science Foundation (No. OCE-1426891). E. F. and T. Y. were supported by NSF (Nos. GRFP & GEO-1211972 and GRFP DGE: 0937373, respectively).

Author information

L.A.R., R.G. and M.L.P. designed research. K.St.M. provided data and the framework for characterizing communities-at-sea and their servicesheds. L.A.R., T.Y., E.F. and M.L.P. conducted analyses. All authors contributed to conceptual development. L.A.R. and M.L.P. wrote the manuscript with input from all authors.

Correspondence to Lauren A. Rogers.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks Natalie Ban and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Tables 1–4, Supplementary Figures 1–8, Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Methods and Supplementary References.

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Further reading

Fig. 1: Projected changes in the thermal environment and species-specific habitat suitability on the NEUS shelf.
Fig. 2: Projected changes in habitat suitability for Monkfish and Atlantic cod within community servicesheds.
Fig. 3: Exposure of communities-at-sea to risk from climate change impacts on harvested species.