A Climate of Change and the Need for a Plan

Robin Just

Photo credit: AZRainman via Compfight.

Photo credit: AZRainman via Compfight.

Flipping through the latest issue of Commercial Fisheries News recently, I was somewhat surprised to find several stories about climate change interspersed with the ads for diesel engines and winches. These articles weren’t of the “Do you or don’t you believe” variety, or predictions of how high the seas would rise or how bad the storms/droughts/heat waves/cold waves would be. The tone of these stories was summed up pretty well by the cover: “Changing Ocean – what does it all mean?”It was a sobering read, to say the least. In short – rapidly increasing water temperatures, along with ocean acidification and shifting currents are playing havoc with our fishing grounds. Many of our most economically important fish and shellfish are not found where they used to be, and former strangers like sailfish and cobia are becoming familiar in our waters.

Many fishermen have realized, as have many of us non-fishermen, that conversations about climate “beliefs” are outdated, and the real story now is how we cope with the changes that are already happening, and are bound to keep coming.

Fishermen are joining experts in other areas such as coastal infrastructure, energy distribution, and national security in speaking out about the real, observable facts of the current impacts from climate change. Even as the ocean changes, the uses of our oceans and coasts are increasing. We are adding new uses like tidal and wind energy development and more undersea communications cables to our existing uses like fishing, shipping, and recreation. If we are going to both maintain the health of the ocean which provides the goods and services we depend upon and manage ocean uses so they are compatible, profitable and less prone to harm ocean health then we need to coordinate all new and old uses as best we can. Here in New England we have an active ocean planning process working to do just that.

In 2010 President Obama signed the Executive Order establishing the National Ocean Policy which calls for, among other things, regional ocean planning. This planning must involve better coordination of federal agencies and ocean users, be informed by the best available science and data, be conducted in a manner that considers the entire ocean ecosystem, not just discrete parts, and be open and transparent to all stakeholders.

New Englanders were well equipped for this new and important challenge, having created our own state plans in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and the Northeast Regional Ocean Council to help guide our regional efforts. Most recently, we have convened a Regional Planning Body to begin the real nuts and bolts work of putting together our nation’s first true regional ocean plan.

There is no doubt that the ocean is changing, that these changes will require resiliency and problem-solving to cope with, and that we are asking more and more of our ocean resources than ever before.  The best way forward is with a good plan, and we will continue to actively support these efforts in New England, and we hope you will too.

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