PRESIDENT’S COMMENTARY: Climate Change: SWAPs and AFS

AFS President Ron Essig

AFS President Ron Essig

Climate change is undoubtedly one of the most important threats to aquatic species and habitats in the decades ahead. So it is entirely appropriate that this Fisheries issue is devoted to that theme. In this column, I will touch on two main points regarding climate change: (1) how it is being addressed within state wildlife action plans (SWAPs), and (2) how AFS is involved in the issue.

State and territorial fish and wildlife agencies in the United States prepared SWAPs in 2005 to assess the condition of their wildlife and habitats, to identify their threats, and to outline actions for their conservation. Many aquatic species were designated as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in these plans. States recently submitted revisions to their SWAPs, marking their 10-year anniversary. As of this writing, most of these SWAP revisions are available to the public on agency websites but are still being reviewed for approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A major requirement for these SWAP revisions was to address the threat of climate change. States typically characterize the threats from climate change as habitat shifting and alteration, storms and flooding, droughts, and temperature extremes. Aquatic habitat shifting and alteration include such phenomena as sea level rise and ocean acidification, among others.

States propose a variety of actions to address climate change in their SWAP revisions, and I looked at those in the northeast United States where I work for some aquatic examples. Rhode Island is similar to many states in their identification that a basic need still exists to assess succession of species likely resulting from temperature changes. New York proposes a monitoring program for deep, cold Adirondack lakes that may serve as refuges for sensitive SGCN from the effects of climate change. Virginia identified many heat-tolerant fish SGCN like Blackbanded Sunfish Enneacanthus chaetodon and several darter species that occupy small, isolated habitats, preventing them from expanding their range. So species propagation programs and releases into currently unoccupied habitats are proposed. Delaware proposes to restore or improve horseshoe crab spawning habitat affected by sea-level rise through beach replenishment. I suspect that these sample Northeast actions of monitoring, species propagation, species translocation, and improving resiliency to flooding are repeated for other SGCN in SWAPs in other regions of the United States.

Shifting gears to AFS and climate change, the Society has been involved in this issue for many years. Arguably the most comprehensive effort was the development of the climate change position statement approved by AFS members in 2011 (fisheries. org/wp content/uploads/2015/05/policy_33f.pdf). The bottom line of this 43 page statement is a set of recommendations for greenhouse gas  reductions, water use mitigation, integrated habitat management, fish dispersal, education, monitoring, research, funding, and management to reduce ecosystem stressors. AFS sent letters to President Obama in January 2013 and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator in June 2014 promoting the policy statement.

Climate change has been the subject of many symposia at Society and AFS Unit meetings in recent years. The 2015 Annual Meeting had sessions on ocean acidification and impacts of climate change on populations, distributions, and habitats. The 2016 Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, where the North Central Division meets, featured a session on climate science for state-level resource management. There will be symposia on drought and impacts of climate change on inland fish at the AFS 2016 Annual Meeting in Kansas City. Symposia like these provide an opportunity for researchers and managers to share the latest climate change science that is tailored to aquatic species and habitats.

AFS organized two Congressional Hill briefings in recent years where climate change was a major focus. The Society and its Potomac Chapter presented a briefing entitled “Climate Change and Fisheries” on May 9, 2013, with speakers from federal and state agencies, academia, and a Native American tribe. A March 19, 2015, briefing on marine fisheries management included a presentation entitled “Addressing Climate Change as a New Challenge to Fisheries Managers.”

AFS staff is currently working through Cornell University on a three-year project to review the work of the eight Department of Interior Climate Science Centers (CSCs) in the United States. The scientific goal of these reviews is to assess the contribution of each CSC in climate modeling, climate change impact assessments, vulnerability and adaptation analyses, and developing adaptation strategies. Review objectives also include evaluating partner engagement and graduate student training of the CSCs.

There are other ways that AFS is likely to engage in the climate change issue in the future. Sections like Fish Habitat and Water Quality are\ well positioned to work on the issue, and there has been discussion of forming a new AFS Climate Change Section. Through its Future of the Nation’s Aquatic Resources initiative, AFS is currently gathering information on important issues for the incoming U.S. Presidential administration that are very likely to include climate change.

Finally, this thematic issue of Fisheries is the most recent example of AFS involvement in climate change. It includes a cross section of articles organized by active members Craig Paukert and Abby Lynch that are sure to pique your interest. Please take some time to explore and enjoy the issue. Perhaps you can apply some of the science contained within to your current or future fisheries work.

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