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Implications of Climate Change on the Fishing Communities of the U.S. NES LME
In assessing impacts of climate change to oceans and coasts, one key component is impacts to coastal communities, especially communities that depend specifically on the ocean for meeting economic, social and cultural needs. Fishing (commercial, recreational, and subsistence), coastal tourism and recreation, and spiritual or cultural practices centered on marine locations or species are three examples. Existing levels of social vulnerability affect the level of impact that a community experiences from stressors, including climate change. Factors affecting vulnerability include levels of access to resources and power (political, cultural, economic and social) and of susceptibility to harm or loss. Today these communities are experiencing impacts of multiple stressors: economic, social and ecological. Therefore, identification and monitoring of socially vulnerable populations in the coastal zone is a critical aspect of understanding the impacts of climate change and other stressors. Similarly, levels of dependence on and use of ocean-related resources and conditions create greater or lesser likelihood of specific kinds of impacts. Further, coastal gentrification may be an indication of community vulnerability to development that may transform coastlines thus increasing their vulnerability to the impacts of extreme weather conditions that can result from climate change.
The NMFS Community Social Vulnerability Indicators (CSVIs; Jepson and Colburn 2013) are statistical measures of the vulnerability of communities to climate change and other events such natural hazards, disasters, and regulatory changes to fisheries. The CSVIs currently serve as indicators of social vulnerability, gentrification pressure vulnerability, and commercial and recreational fishing dependence. These indicators are based on the indices shown in Table 2.
The CSVIs are constructed annually, using demographic data from the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey (ACS) five-year rolling estimates, NOAA Fisheries annual commercial fisheries and Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) data, as well as a small number of publically available but non-government online databases (Table 2). Ongoing data collection will allow the CSVIs to be continually updated to show long term trends. The baseline ACS data covers the years 2005 to 2009 and will be compared to 2010 to 2014 estimates once they are available. The 2006 to 2010 ACS data were used to construct the social and gentrification pressure vulnerability indicators found in Figure 27 and Figure 28. NOAA Fisheries and MRIP data from 2010 were used to construct the commercial and recreational dependence indicators found in Figure 29 and Figure 30. Communities in the Northeastern U.S. are ranked as high, moderate, or low relative to the respective indicator. Figure 27 shows a high concentration of socially vulnerable communities in the Mid-Atlantic while Figure 28 shows a high to moderate concentration of communities that are vulnerable to gentrification pressure in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey. Community dependence on fishing is mixed with significantly more communities dependent on recreational (Figure 30) than commercial fishing (Figure 29).
In 2016, a study by Colburn et al. 2016 mapped Northeast U.S. region fishing communities based on catch composition diversity (Simpson's Reciprocal Index) and the level of dependence on species highly vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate. Figure 30.1 provides a side-by-side comparison of the region based on these two important aspects. Geographic areas within the region display characteristics that reveal important information concerning their overall vulnerability to climate change. For example, the majority of communities in Maine display moderate dependence on vulnerable species while scoring low on catch diversity, a reflection of the region's high dependence on the lobster fishery. In contrast, communities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have significant dependence on species such as scallops that are highly vulnerable to climate change, but also have high catch diversity. In southern New Jersey, some communities are significantly dependent on species such as clams that are highly vulnerable to climate change while displaying low overall catch-diversity.
For those communities that are highly dependent on more vulnerable species and have low catch diversity, the impacts that come from climate change could be substantial. Switching to substitute species may be limited by external factors such as regulatory constraints or expensive gear modifications to fishing equipment. It is important to note that few communities in the Northeast U.S. region have low dependency on highly vulnerable species, while at the same time displaying high catch composition diversity, an indication of the region's overall vulnerability to climate change based on the factors analyzed (Figure 30.1).
 At present, they are not sensitive to single short term events though with enough data this may be calculable in the future.