AFS Calls on New Administration to Take Urgent Steps to Protect Fisheries from Climate Change

January 26, 2021

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Biden:

We write today to urge your continued leadership and commitment to significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. We applaud your plan to restore U.S. leadership on this issue at the global level, the commitment to driving federal legislative solutions to address greenhouse gas reductions, and your efforts to appoint climate-focused personnel across federal government agencies. We would like to make you aware of (1) the global consensus of the aquatic science societies on the effects of climate change on fisheries and other aquatic resources, (2) the urgency of reducing carbon emissions, and (3) steps that can be taken to help mitigate the effects of climate change on fisheries in the interim.

Statement of Global Aquatic Science Societies
Founded in 1870, the American Fisheries Society (AFS) is the world’s oldest and largest fisheries science society. The mission of AFS is to improve the conservation and sustainability of fishery resources and aquatic ecosystems by advancing fisheries and aquatic science and promoting the development of fisheries professionals. With five journals, a monthly magazine, in-house book publishing with over 200 titles, and the world’s largest fisheries science conferences, AFS is the leading source of fisheries science and management information in North America and around the world. We support and promote the use of best-available science in policy-making.

Last fall, the American Fisheries Society (AFS) and 111 other science societies representing 80,000 scientists across the world called for urgent action to reduce emissions to avoid catastrophic impacts to commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries, human health, and global economies. Attached please find the statement that details the irreversible impacts to freshwater and marine ecosystems, fish, and fisheries from climate change that are projected to occur without swift and resolute action to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. We must act now to safeguard our drinking water, food supplies, and human health and well-being.

Urgency of Carbon Emission Reductions
Scientists are already observing significant changes to freshwater and marine species as a result of climate change. Today, forty percent of all freshwater fish species in North America are imperiled as a result of pollution, habitat loss, water withdrawals, and invasive species. Highly valued fisheries will be further stressed by climate change as it accelerates and intensifies water pollution, species range reductions, species extinctions, and facilitates invasive species introduction at the detriment of native species. Climate change is warming rivers, lakes, and streams and altering precipitation patterns throughout America, reducing habitat availability for fish, particularly for coldwater species such as trout which provide valuable recreational fisheries across much of the country.

Climate change is also altering marine and coastal ecosystems with significant implications for wild capture fisheries and marine economies. Projected increases in ocean temperature are expected to reduce the maximum catch potential in most areas in the U.S. Many harvested stocks are already and will continue to shift from one area to another, or even across international boundaries with implications for seafood supply, ports, and associated businesses. Loss of habitat from sea level rise will lead to declines in the vast majority of commercially and recreationally harvested marine finfish and shellfish that are dependent on estuaries and coastal systems for some stage of their life cycle. Increased carbon dioxide absorption is changing ocean chemistry, rendering some waters too acidic for marine organisms with calcium-based shells, such as oysters and clams, and threatening the base of the marine food web. In the U.S., commercial and recreational fishing support more than 1.74 million jobs and results in more than $244 billion in sales per year. The economic and environmental value of the ecosystem services provided by our nation’s aquatic resources is also of great importance and must be safeguarded.

Mitigation and Research to Help Protect Aquatic Resources
As part of any climate solution, we urge you to protect the integrity of our healthy aquatic ecosystems and work to restore degraded systems in order to maintain their crucial storage of carbon as part of halting and eventually reversing the effects of climate change. Land and water-based conservation solutions are critical to capture carbon and to make our rivers, lakes and streams, forests, grasslands, wetlands, and coastal systems more resilient to the impacts of climate change. Additional investments should be made in already existing conservation programs and activities with established funding delivery systems, partner and volunteer networks, and demonstrated track records for implementation and effectiveness. In other cases, new programs and funding streams will need to be developed in order to capture the full extent and utility of our natural systems to sequester carbon, build climate resiliency, and adapt to climate change.

To the extent possible, we must mitigate the impacts of climate change on fish and fisheries and plan for adaptation required to ensure the long-term health of our freshwater, coastal, and marine ecosystems and the many economies that depend upon them. We must also address the regulatory changes over the last four years that put the U.S. on the wrong course to deal with the very real and significant impacts to our fish and aquatic resources from climate change.

Over the last year, world-renowned scientific experts within AFS have been evaluating the most promising opportunities and solutions to provide resiliency for fish and aquatic ecosystems in the face of climate change. We look forward to sharing this information with you as it becomes available. AFS Policy Director Drue Winters ([email protected]) and I will be requesting meetings with your climate change and natural resources leaders over the coming months to share these solutions and develop innovative new approaches.

Thank you again for your commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting and restoring our nation’s aquatic resources. We look forward to working together on this critically important issue.


Douglas J. Austen, Ph.D.
Executive Director