Climate Change and the Mid-Atlantic Summer Flounder Fishery: a Multidisciplinary Approach to Informing Adaptive Management

by Dr. Chris Kennedy



Summer flounder. Photo courtesy of the NOAA Fisheries Service Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). For more images, please visit the gallery at

Summer flounder, commonly known as fluke, is a critically important species to commercial and recreational fishermen throughout the Mid-Atlantic coastal region, but management is complicated by rapid, northern shift in the distribution of the stock, which is correlated with regional-climate-driven increases in ocean temperature. Stock assessment and management of summer flounder have already been controversial, largely because of scientific uncertainties in the stock-assessment process and a fishery management plan that is not designed to adapt to changing spatial patterns of abundance and harvests, the latter of which are limited by state-by-state quotas and targets based on historical harvest shares. Climate change will likely further impact the distribution, stock structure, and productivity of summer flounder, and lead to increased conflict between stakeholders and fishery managers.

Photo courtesy of the Rutgers University Marine Field Station (RUMFS).

Beginning in Spring, 2014, Dr. Kennedy will join scientists from Rutgers, Stony Brook, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, as well as fishery managers, NOAA scientists, and stakeholders, in a multi-year project aimed at developing a better understanding of the impacts of rising ocean temperatures on the summer flounder fishery. This project is supported by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Sea Grant Consortium, which identifies and funds research that is deemed critical to the effective management of coastal and marine resources in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The project – which will include genetic analysis to determine larval connectivity, spatially- and temporally- specific stock assessment and population dynamics modeling, and economic modeling of recreational demand and commercial fleet dynamics – will be used to evaluate how climate change is likely to impact the fishery moving forward, both biologically and with specific attention to behavioral responses by commercial and recreational anglers. The results of the study will be used to inform future management efforts in this fishery and serve as a model for understanding climate-related impacts on other economically important fisheries in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. The project will support one PhD student in ESP who will work closely with Dr. Kennedy and fisheries economists from NOAA to develop a bioeconomic model of the fishery.