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Coastal SEES: Resilience and Adaptation of a Coastal Ecological-Economic System in Response to Increasing Temperature


Funded by: National Science Foundation (NSF)
Principal Investigator: Andrew Pershing
Co-Principal Investigators: Andrew Thomas, Yong Chen, Kathy Mills, Rick Wahle, Jenny Sun, Dan Holland, Janet Nye, Tom Farmer, Frank Chiang, Mike Alexander


Climate change is rapidly altering conditions in the ocean, and organisms exhibit complex responses to these changes. For many fish and invertebrates, changing temperatures are altering their characteristic spatial and seasonal distributions. Fisheries provide a two-way connection between changing ocean environments and local economies. As the distribution and abundance of species change, where, when, and how many fish are caught will change. Fisheries also respond to economic conditions or management policies, leading to feedbacks onto fish populations. In order to understand the impact of warming on fisheries ecosystems, it is essential to account for dynamical interactions between populations, fisheries, and markets. This project will develop an integrated view of the complex relationships between climate change, oceanography, ecology, and economics in a coastal marine setting.

This study will advance our understanding of how physical changes affect biological patterns, which then impact fisheries and how ecosystem changes influence economic incentives that feedback to the fishery and affect the abundance of fish. The Gulf of Maine, which includes economically valuable lobster and groundfish fisheries, provides an ideal test-bed to understand these dynamic linkages. This system exhibits strong temperature gradients, gradual warming, and recent warm events. Gradual warming has altered the distribution of fish, but the greatest impacts on the coupled system have come from acute warm events.

Record warm temperatures during 2012 led to an earlier shoreward migration of lobsters, making
them easier to catch. Although the lobster catch set a new record, a collapse in prices due to a market glut reduced the total landed value. The proposed multidisciplinary study will examine how warming events, as well as gradual temperature trends, alter the dynamics of a complex ecological and economic system.