The Northeast U.S. Shelf Ecosystem supports a wide array of living marine resources from Atlantic sea scallops, one of the most valuable, to the North Atlantic Right whale, one of the most endangered. All of these resources - fish, invertebrates, marine mammals, sea turtles, plants, habitats, and other ecosystem components - are being impacted by climate change and multidecadal climate variability. In fact, the pace of observed climate change in the Northeast U.S. is faster than in many other U.S. Large Marine Ecosystems, and future change in the Northeast U.S. Shelf ecosystem is projected to be greater than many other portions of the world’s oceans. These changes in climate are already creating significant challenges for the region. Species distributions are becoming out of sync with the spatial allocations of management. The productivity of some iconic species is decreasing, making rebuilding and recovery difficult. Some ports rely on one or two fisheries; changes in these fisheries could have dramatic consequences for the human communities connected to these ports. Changes in science and management can be slow, while changes in the physics, chemistry, and biology of the ecosystem are occurring rapidly. Despite these challenges, there are opportunities. Some species in the region are responding positively to the changes in climate: moving into the region and increasing in productivity. For many managed species, management actions can occur relatively rapidly: the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) and Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (MAFMC) have developed specification procedures and framework adjustments that can be implemented within a year of receiving new, peer-reviewed advice. The region has an excellent marine science infrastructure and advanced technologies offer new tools for observing, understanding, and adapting to change. Recognizing the opportunities and challenges resulting from climate change, NOAA Fisheries released the Climate Science Strategy in August 2015. This Strategy develops a national framework to meet the growing demand for information to better prepare for and respond to climate-related impacts on the nation’s living marine resources and resource-dependent communities.
The Strategy calls on each region to develop a Regional Action Plan to customize and execute the Strategy over the next 3-5 years. The Plan and Strategy cover all NOAA Fisheries mission elements: sustainable fisheries, protected resources, aquaculture, habitat, and ecosystems; work is needed across all of these mission elements. Here, the Northeast Regional Action Plan (NERAP) applies to the Northeast U.S. Shelf Ecosystem, which extends from North Carolina to Maine, and includes watersheds, estuaries, the continental shelf and the open ocean. The Northeast Regional Action Plan identifies 15 NERAP Actions of highest priority. These actions are ordered by the objectives of the NOAA Fisheries Climate Science Strategy (e.g., NERAP Action 1 is associated with Objective 1 of the Strategy). Actions are prioritized for No New Resources and New Resources scenarios (Table 1). Under No New Resources, the Plan describes actions that can be taken to advance the NOAA Fisheries Climate Science Strategy at current funding and staffing levels. These actions are broadly consistent with activities currently underway at Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) and the Greater Atlantic Regional Fishery Office (GARFO) and within the region but will require greater integration across the NEFSC and GARFO and greater collaboration with partners throughout the region. Under New Resources, the Plan prioritizes actions that can be taken with $2 million in additional funding. The description of actions under New Resources is limited and does not encompass everything that is needed to accomplish the action.