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Centering communities at the heart of fisheries policy

By: Marina Cucuzza,
Knauss Fellow, 
Climate and Fisheries Specialist,
NOAA Fisheries, Office of Science and Technology & 
NOAA Research, Climate Program Office


You must be from away,” is how I was greeted after my first meeting in a small coastal fishing community in midcoast Maine. As a state with a strong sense of identity, this phrase is often used to label those not born in the Pine Tree State. It was my first year of graduate school, and I had just presented preliminary findings of trends in local commercial fisheries landings to a group of fishermen. Part of my presentation highlighted a dip in clam landings one year, suggesting a declining population. I was quickly informed that my data was missing a key part of the story — that prolonged periods of heavy rainfall had caused local clam flat closures that year, restricting harvesting due to the threat of bacterial contaminants. This experience early in my graduate career exemplified the key role of local knowledge, held by those harvesting the resource, in critically filling in contextual gaps of those “from away.” This moment not only shaped the course of my graduate research but also my understanding of the importance of integrating different types of knowledge into decision-making, a lesson I’ve carried with me to my current position as a Knauss fellow with NOAA Fisheries and NOAA Research. 


As part of my graduate work at the University of Maine, I served on the town’s marine resources committee as the community was putting forth an effort to revise their municipal comprehensive plan. Comprehensive plans are documents developed by communities that shape their future actions and directions. As part of this effort, I surveyed fishers to understand observations of change, analyzed trends in marine resources over time, and worked with the community to identify local policies that address marine resource concerns and climate adaptation efforts. Embedding myself in the community, working alongside fishers and other community members, provided a first-hand perspective of the challenges that coastal communities face and the role that local planning plays in preparing communities for a changing future. This work catalyzed my state-wide assessment of the degree to which Maine’s comprehensive plans incorporated key indicators of social and ecological resilience. 


In my work on climate and fisheries issues at the national scale as a Knauss fellow, I am often reminded of the lessons learned from years working with fishers and fishing communities in Maine and in other coastal places. During my Knauss fellowship, I have been able to see firsthand how public input is critical in shaping policy and decision-making. In January of 2021, President Biden released Executive Order 14008, on Tackling the Climate Crises at Home and Abroad. Section 216 (c) of the E.O. calls for NOAA to solicit input from the public on how to make fisheries and protected resources, including aquaculture, more resilient to climate change. During the first part of my fellowship, I analyzed and synthesized public comments, including recommendations on how NOAA can best achieve the objectives outlined in the Executive Order. The comments demonstrate how experiences and recommendations of those living and working on the water each day, often those who experience changing oceans firsthand, are essential to shape climate-ready decision-making at the national scale. This input is critical to inform and shape rulemaking, policies and budget priorities. 


In my Knauss position, I am uniquely situated across Line Offices, working both in the NOAA Fisheries Office of Science and Technology, and in the NOAA Research Climate Program Office. Throughout this year, I am learning how these offices advance fisheries and climate-related science and the interplay between science, public policy and natural resource management. Through my fellowship, I have been able to support the Climate and Fisheries Adaptation (CAFA) program, which is jointly managed by these offices and is focused on understanding climate impacts on fish stocks and fisheries to inform sustainable management.  I’m working to coordinate a nationwide Community of Practice of researchers to share knowledge, insight and expertise across the regional climate and fisheries modeling projects that inform sustainable fisheries management. The knowledge shared across these regional projects is key to finding solutions and supporting innovation in these efforts to develop tools and information to promote adaptation and resilience of the nation’s fisheries and fishery-dependent communities. 


The biggest lesson I have learned this year is that planning for climate readiness in fisheries, whether at the community or national scale, requires the knowledge of both scientists who conduct research as well as those with place-based knowledge of the resources, who live and work on the water and depend on these resources. In order for climate-ready actions to succeed, it is critical that these knowledge types are integrated and sustained equitably.

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