Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) Climate Scenario Planning Pilot Report

  • Diane Borggaard
  • Dori Dick
  • Jonathan Star
  • Michael Alexander
  • Matthew Bernier
  • Matt Collins
  • Kim Damon-Randall
  • Robert Dudley
  • Roger Griffis
  • Sean Hayes
  • Mike Johnson
  • Dan Kircheis
  • John Kocik
  • Ben Letcher
  • Nate Mantua
  • Wendy Morrison
  • Keith Nislow
  • Vince Saba
  • Rory Saunders
  • Tim Sheehan
  • Michelle Staudinger
Keywords: Atlantic salmon, scenario planning, climate change


Scenario planning is a structured process that embraces uncertainty and explores plausible alternative future conditions under different assumptions to help manage risk and prioritize actions (Schwartz 1996, Peterson et al. 2003). It has been used by a variety of organizations to explore and help prepare for the future, it lends itself well to exploring the uncertainty surrounding changing environmental conditions, and it is widely applicable to natural resource management issues. For example, the conservation and management of protected resources can be particularly challenging when the rate and magnitude of climate-related changes, and the response of species to those changes, are uncertain (NMFS 2016). The structured process of scenario planning can help resource managers navigate through potentially paralyzing uncertainties, manage risk, and evaluate/prioritize management actions associated with adapting to, and managing for, climate change (Moore et al. 2013).

For these reasons a scenario planning initiative was piloted by NOAA Fisheries to explore what the agency can do to improve remnant U.S. Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) population resilience to changing conditions in riverine, estuarine, and marine environments across its current range. Project objectives included: 1) to better understand the challenges of managing Atlantic salmon in a changing climate; 2) to generate and discuss potential management actions and research activities that can be undertaken or encouraged to increase our understanding of the drivers of salmon productivity and resilience; 3) to increase collaborations and coordination related to the species recovery; and 4) to explore how scenario planning can be used to support decisions.

Outcomes from this initiative included the identification of high priority research and management actions to further collaborations and efforts to recover this species. High priority actions were those that could be undertaken in the near-term using current resources and in consideration of potential future conditions. Such actions were identified for range-wide (U.S. headwaters to Greenland), watershed, estuarine (transition), and marine habitats. Examples of actions by habitat included: synthesize and refine range-wide life stage specific quantitative thresholds for temperature, flow, etc.; assess watershed habitat productivity; assess forage fish and survival connection and options for marine migration monitoring; and reduce dam-associated indirect estuarine mortality rate.

This report summarizes the first use of scenario planning by NOAA Fisheries. The report also documents an important example of the application of scenario planning to marine environments and may serve as a useful reference for other case studies.