PeerJ (2021-04-01)

The rise in climate change-induced federal fishery disasters in the United States

  • Lyall Bellquist,
  • Vienna Saccomanno,
  • Brice X. Semmens,
  • Mary Gleason,
  • Jono Wilson

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 9
p. e11186


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Commercial, recreational, and indigenous fisheries are critical to coastal economies and communities in the United States. For over three decades, the federal government has formally recognized the impact of fishery disasters via federal declarations. Despite these impacts, national syntheses of the dynamics, impacts, and causes of fishery disasters are lacking. We developed a nationwide Federal Fishery Disaster database using National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fishery disaster declarations and fishery revenue data. From 1989-2020, there were 71 federally approved fishery disasters (eleven are pending), which spanned every federal fisheries management region and coastal state in the country. To date, we estimate fishery disasters resulted in $2B (2019 USD) in Congressional allocations, and an additional, conservative estimate of $3.2B (2019 USD) in direct revenue loss. Despite this scale of impact, the disaster assistance process is largely ad hoc and lacks sufficient detail to properly assess allocation fairness and benefit. Nonetheless, fishery disasters increased in frequency over time, and the causes of disasters included a broad range of anthropogenic and environmental factors, with a recent shift to disasters now almost exclusively caused by extreme environmental events (e.g., marine heatwaves, hurricanes, and harmful algal blooms). Nationwide, 84.5% of fishery disasters were either partially or entirely attributed to extreme environmental events. As climate change drives higher rates of such extreme events, and as natural disaster assistance requests reach an all-time high, the federal system for fisheries disaster declaration and mitigation must evolve in order to effectively protect both fisheries sustainability and societal benefit.