A Working Group on Climate Change Impacts on Shellfishing in Wellfleet Harbor: Case study of Climate Change and Atlantic Fisheries Project
Funding:  NOAA Climate Program Office, Coastal and Oceans Climate Applications (COCA) Program (#NA12OAR4310106)
Project Date Range:

Project Summary

The purpose of the Working group on Climate Change impacts on shellfishing in Wellfleet Harbor is to identify:

  • threats to shellfishing in Wellfleet Harbor from climate change,
  • the role of shellfish in mitigating impacts from climate change and other environmental hazards in Wellfleet Harbor, and
  • strategies to increase the resilience of Wellfleet and its shellfishery in a time of climate change.

The outcomes of the working group are described in a series of reports.  These reports, and additional materials will be available on a new website, that will be available in January 2016.  Please check back for the link then!
The history of the Town of Wellfleet is closely connected to shellfish in Wellfleet Harbor. Shellfish, including oysters, quahogs, and scallops, are key drivers of the town’s economy and identity. Commercial shellfishing, from aquaculture and wild populations, provide jobs, tax revenues, and income to local residents. Recreational shellfishing has many participants, forming an important social activity among residents and tourists. As part of the natural habitat, shellfish also provide important ecological services. They filter large amounts of water, and healthy populations improve water quality in the Harbor which is impacted by stormwater and wastewater runoff. Oyster reefs reduce erosion and the impact of storm surge and wave action. 
Climate change may impact shellfish populations and health and the shellfishery in multiple ways.
Climate change may impact the health of shellfish populations by increasing water temperatures and reducing pH of Harbor waters. Shellfish pathogens may become more prevalent and food supplies may become more scarce. Shellfish may be impacted by increasing amounts of stormwater and wastewater runoff from more severe storms, predicted as part of climate change in this region. As for the shellfishery, climate change may also result in a number of impacts. Shellfish health may deteriorate (and mortality increase) from changing pH and water temperatures, thus reducing the income of shelfishers and other associated local businesses. Human pathogens, such as vibrio, may become more prevalent and the requirements on shellfishers to reduce vibrio risks more burdensome.
At the same time, shellfish can promote resilience in the face of climate change. Large, healthy populations of shellfish have more resiliency, provide more buffering from acidic waters, improve water quality, and reduce erosion from storms.
Opportunities to prevent or reduce impacts can be integrated into ongoing and future Town planning efforts, including the Harbor Management Plan, Hazard Mitigation Plan, and Stormwater Management Plan. Other actions can be taken at the state level, for example new regulations for managing vibrio and protection of spawning sanctuaries.
For more information contact:
Seth Tuler, Research Fellow
Social and Environmental Research Institute, Inc.
664 Main St., Suite 47, Amherst, MA 01002
Phone: (office) 413-253-7374; (cell) 413-387-9320

Email: SPTuler [at] seri-us [dot] org (SPTuler [at] seri-us [dot] org)  

Read more about the theoretical background of this project.



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