Lenfest Ideas Lab Generates Research Priorities for Shifting Stocks


Lenfest Ideas Lab Generates Research Priorities for Shifting Stocks
Lab participants listening to a group presentation at the end of the workshop.
Victoria Bell

From October 21-23, 2019, the Lenfest Ocean Program convened 30 scientists, managers, and stakeholders in Washington, DC, for a workshop to identify key research priorities concerning the shifting of commercially valuable fish and invertebrate stocks in the waters surrounding the continental United States. Participants generated nine research project ideas focused on improving the scientific understanding of climate-induced stock movements, enhancing community resilience under such changes, and equipping managers to effectively govern shifting resources. Over the next year, some of these project ideas will be funded by Lenfest and other marine science grantmaking organizations.

The Need for New Thinking to Confront Shifting Marine Species

As climate change warms the ocean, marine species are moving poleward and into deeper waters, presenting major challenges for fishing communities and managers. Fishermen are encountering traditionally more southern species near their home ports, and now must travel further to catch the species for which they have permits and for which their gear and processing infrastructure are designed. Managers, meanwhile, are faced with difficult catch allocation issues as fisheries develop in new locations. For all involved, uncertainties about the dynamics of these changes impede the ability to anticipate and plan for future disruptions.

The goal of this three-day workshop was to bring together a diverse group of participants to formulate research projects that could bring new thinking to this complex issue and inform paths forward in a changing marine environment. Attendees, who were selected following an open call for applications, represented 12 coastal states and Washington, DC, and comprised: state, regional, and federal managers; natural and social scientists from university, government, and non-profit settings; members of the commercial fishing and seafood processing industries; and directors of coastal ocean observing systems.

An Ideas Lab to Generate Use-Inspired Research Projects

The workshop took the form of an Ideas Lab—an intensive and highly structured event that encouraged open, creative thinking and candid small-group discussion to generate project ideas. The meeting opened with a series of talks from scientists and managers, who offered perspectives on the barriers that coastal communities face when it comes to coping with shifting stocks. Following each talk, participants divided into breakout groups to brainstorm management and research questions that the presentations prompted. 

Attendees then arranged these questions into major themes, which served as the basis for project development. Over the next few days, participants self-assembled into several teams—often spanning sectors, geographies, and scientific disciplines—to refine concrete research ideas that were both feasible and useful for decision-makers. Many attendees participated on multiple teams, further facilitating exchange of ideas. Helping them along the way were five “mentors”—managers and researchers heavily engaged on the issue who provided critical feedback as project proposals evolved.

The meeting culminated with nine teams presenting their project proposals to the group. Some of the projects focused on better diagnosing the issue of shifting stocks, while others were oriented around adapting management to address such shifts.

Key Priorities and Next Steps

Some overarching research priorities that emerged from the workshop include:

  1. Improving and expanding the collection and integration of data for monitoring environmental changes and shifting stocks;
  2. Understanding the ecosystem-level impacts of climate change and how those might affect shifting species;
  3. Adapting stock assessment methodologies to incorporate a changing environment;
  4. The governance challenge of balancing management flexibility with accountability in a dynamic environment; and
  5. Identifying community-level vulnerabilities, challenges, and opportunities that shifting species will bring.

Over the next several months, Lenfest staff will work closely with Ideas Lab participants to further develop project ideas, some of which will ultimately be selected for funding. For future updates regarding the projects that result from this exciting event, please consider signing up for the Lenfest newsletter.