Climate change, distribution shifts, and choke species: A threat assessment to advance fishery ecosystem planning


PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: Timothy Essington (University of Washington)

CO-INVESTIGATORS: Samantha Siedlecki (University of Connecticut), Eric Ward (NOAA Northwest Regional Office), Lewis Barnett (NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center), James Thorson (NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center), Sean Anderson (Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada), Mary Hunsicker (NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center), Robyn Forrest (Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada)


The coastal ecosystems that support fisheries are undergoing rapid change. Temperatures are increasing and oxygen levels are decreasing; in theory, these two trends simultaneously constrain marine life because increased temperatures increase oxygen demand while declining oxygen levels decrease supply. In response, fish are moving to avoid inhospitable areas. These shifts can cause fisheries management problems — for example, fish may shift into areas that are under a different management jurisdiction.  

Washington Sea Grant-funded researchers are compiling and analyzing existing trawl surveys to investigate the sensitivity of various groundfish species to temperature and oxygen levels. They will use this information to infer future short- and long-term patterns of groundfish distributions given climate change. The researchers are evaluating these patterns at broad scales, from California to the Bering Sea, and are also looking at localized patterns such as the usual and accustomed fishing area of coastal Tribes. The team has developed two tools now available for public use: a database of groundfish survey and oceanographic data integrated from multiple sources, and an R code package that provides estimates of how existing fish distributions respond to the joint effects of oxygen and temperature.