Duke Kunshan Professor Awarded US NSF Grant for Research on Climate Change’s Impact on Fisheries

California Coastline

A collaborative research project led by Dr. Junjie Zhang from Duke Kunshan University recently received a $361,075 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) of the United States to research the impact of climate change on the sustainability of key fisheries of the California Current System (Award #1600267).

“The grant from the NSF, through its Coastal SEES (Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability) program, enables us to evaluate the impact of climate change on fisheries production in the California coast and study how fishers adapt to climate change,” said Dr. Junjie Zhang, associate professor at Duke Kunshan University and Duke University, director of the international Master of Environmental Policy (iMEP) program and Environmental Research Center at Duke Kunshan University.

As Dr. Zhang pointed out, the area off the California coast supports productive commercial and recreational fisheries such as squid, sardine, and lobster that are important to human cultures, economies, and livelihoods. Climate change is expected to alter the oceanic system and contribute to changes in fish populations that will directly affect fishers' profits and behavior, as well as managers' actions in setting limits on harvest.

With a total grant of $1,500,000 from NSF SEES, this collaborative research project aims to bring together oceanographers, fisheries scientists, economists, and social scientists to develop a new, integrated understanding of climate effects on coastal fisheries, and ultimately to help develop sustainable management strategies under future climate scenarios given predicted ecological, social, and economic outcomes for fisheries.

“The goal of the economic study is to determine changes in economic activity as measured by changes in fishery productivity and profit and the contribution in terms of value added and jobs to the regional economy under global warming,” said Dr. Zhang. “ We will develop empirical bioeconomic models to evaluate the impact of climate change and the effectiveness of management policies. We will also simulate fisheries production under various alternative climate and management scenarios.”

The collaborative project involves three research teams approaching the subject from different angles, and Dr. Zhang is the Principal Investigator of the economic research team. Investigators will examine how fishing behavior, income, jobs distribution, and livelihood viability will be altered by climate change. The focus is on three key commercially harvested species that are known to respond to environmental change: Pacific sardine, California market squid, and California spiny lobster. Each of these supports an economically important fishery and represents a different type of organism in terms of marine habitat, latitudinal range, and time scale of response. Research approaches will include a wide variety of scientific models as well as studies of management scenarios and fisher behavior.

Led by Dr. Zhang, the research team includes state and federal scientists from the United States, and the results of the project will be shared with the resource management community. It is noteworthy that the project will also support interdisciplinary training for undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral scientists.

Speaking of the expected outcome and influence of the study, Dr. Zhang said, “the collaborative research will result in a set of interdisciplinary models to estimate how climate change drives changes in fish populations and related fishing communities. The techniques are not only applicable in the California coast but also other fisheries that are responsive to climate change. The research will eventually inform fisheries policy making at both state and federal levels.”

The National Science Foundation of the United States funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering. With an annual budget of $7.5 billion, NSF is the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America's colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.