NC1189: Understanding the Ecological and Social Constraints to Achieving Sustainable Fisheries Resource Policy and Management

(Multistate Research Project)

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Fish have influenced and continue to influence human settlement patterns, drive trade, supply critical food sources, offer recreational opportunities, and provide a source of income for both inland and coastal communities in the United States and abroad. In 2011, recreational fishing was valued at $115 billion dollars in overall economic output and supported over 800,000 jobs in the United States alone (Southwick Associates 2012). Unfortunately, major ecosystem drivers, in particular climate change and invasive species, threaten the diversity and abundance of freshwater fishes through their impacts on freshwater ecosystems. The cost of all invasive species in the United States is estimated at $120 billion per year (Pimentel et al. 2005). Additionally, as sentinels of ecosystem and societal resilience, changes in fish community structure and production dynamics can alert us to unsustainable human activities occurring at multiple spatial and temporal scales, often before it is visible in other parts of the ecosystem. The overarching goal of this regional research project will be to determine the factors that facilitate or hinder fisheries sustainability and food security in the United States. More specifically, we will aim to address how climate change and invasive species affect fish habitat, communities, and production dynamics, in order to conserve and restore sustainable and economically viable inland aquatic ecosystems and fishery resources. Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) scientists are extremely well positioned and technically capable to assist policy makers and managers by providing the scientific basis on which to guide the best management decisions for sustainable fisheries resource systems in the face of these challenges.

The habitats and communities with which fish have co-evolved have always been in flux, with individuals and populations responding to dynamic changes in climate, prey abundance, predation pressure, and habitat availability. However, the rate at which climate change and invasive species are changing these communities due to climate change and invasive species exceeds the rate at which many fish species are able to adapt, leading to significant reductions in fish production and associated benefits. Policy makers have started to take notice as stakeholders across the country have put together coalitions and partnerships, such as the National Fish Habitat Action Plan's (NFHAP), to address the need for protection, restoration, and enhancement of "the nation's fish and aquatic communities through partnerships that foster fish habitat conservation and improve the quality of life for the American people" (NFHAP 2010 Annual Update, www.fishhatbitat.org). Formal legislation has also been introduced, including the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, which is currently supported by numerous members of Congress and non-governmental associations such as the American Sportfishing Association, and has the recognition of 18 different Fish Habitat Partnerships. These projects highlight the importance of, and support for, cooperation across both political and ecological boundaries. Findings from the multistate research program proposed here will meet these needs and will be used by state, federal, tribal, and associated non-governmental associations to mitigate and adapt to climate change and the spread of invasive species.

In an increasingly globalized world, fish are the ultimate integrators of ecosystem changes as their diversity and productivity reflect changes in the structure and function of upland ecosystems, the composition of the airshed, and the nature and dynamics of ground and surface water. With inland fisheries resources and their ecosystems constantly exposed to new threats due to invasive species and climate change, it is critical to collaborate across geo-political jurisdictional boundaries and disciplinary fields to design innovative and encompassing solutions to local and national scale challenges to the multitude of diverse waterscapes within the United States. We must protect the integrity of our freshwater ecosystems to achieve healthy and productive inland fisheries in the face of human activities and impacts in their watersheds and airsheds. This important link between the quantity and quality of freshwater and sustainable fisheries makes it imperative for our researchers and managers to compare stressors on these resources among diverse landscapes to better devise plans that adaptively manage our fisheries for the benefit of both the ecosystem and society.

To be successful in addressing the challenges faced by fisheries professionals and related policy makers, we need better understanding of aquatic ecosystems and how they provide essential goods and services that generate significant social and economic benefits. Strengthened understanding of the effects of climate change and invasive species on fish and associated biota, coupled with the assessment of the worth of these fisheries ecosystems, should motivate society to ensure benefits from sustainable fisheries and associated aquatic ecosystem services. Enhanced communication among stakeholders throughout the fisheries supply chain is an essential component to achieving the desired stewardship and fisheries valuation at the local and global level. Furthermore, the dimensions of the fisheries supply chain, its governance, and its resilience need to be incorporated into adaptive decision-making processes to mitigate impacts related to environmental change on fisheries ecosystems. Ignoring any of the above factors will lead us down an irreversible path of destruction and collapse for many fisheries and fish populations. Only through understanding the requirements and benefits of healthy fish, healthy habitats and healthy people will sustainability of fisheries and aquatic ecosystems be ensured and our economic and social prosperity be enhanced.

See the "Attachments" section for a CRIS Literature Search for research related to the goals and objectives of NC-1189.  Studies selected in the CRIS search are also attached.

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