Oceanographer Testifies About Climate Change and Fisheries Management

Andrew Pershing, a biological oceanographer with the University of Maine and Gulf of Maine Research Institute, testified in a July 19 Congressional hearing about the need to consider the role of climate change in marine fisheries management.

The hearing of the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs considered three bills, including HR 6096 — the Atlantic Fisheries Statues Reauthorization Act of 2012. Pershing, an associate professor of oceanography at the UMaine in Orono and a research scientist at GMRI in Portland, was invited to talk about how fisheries should be managed in light of a changing climate.

The goal of Pershing’s research is to understand how marine ecosystems respond to changes in the physical environment. In the Gulf of Maine, he uses satellite and other data to develop computer models of the marine ecosystem to reconstruct and forecast population dynamics in species, including the critical copepod in the food web, Calanus finmarchicus.

Much of his recent research has focused on understanding how a climate-driven shift in the plankton community in the Northwest Atlantic affected fish, including herring, bluefin tuna and Atlantic salmon.

“As we look back over the last 30 to 40 years, there are a lot of examples of how changes in climate have stressed fisheries,” Pershing says. “It’s that potential for the interaction between fisheries and climate change that can really challenge (resource) management. An example is the northern cod fisheries that was headed for a hard time, but climate shift changed that from a slow slide to a collapse.”

Pershing concludes that overfishing, especially on older and larger fish, can make fish populations more vulnerable to climate change.

The key, Pershing told the Congressional subcommittee, chaired by Rep. John Fleming, is to expand monitoring of ocean conditions and to build new models that can predict the response of marine ecosystems to climate change.

A PDF of Pershing’s testimony is available here. (PDF)

Contact: Margaret Nagle, (207) 581-3745