Fisheries Resources
Pacific Region

Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to leading the way in addressing and adapting to the impacts of climate change. One of the ways that the Service is addressing the challenges presented by climate change is through evaluations of climate change vulnerability at National Fish Hatcheries (NFHs). In 2011, NFHs across the nation began conducting qualitative assessments to identify the most significant adaptation risks at each facility and plan proactive response strategies to address these risks.

Identifying Vulnerability at Pacific Region National Fish Hatcheries

The quantitative climate change vulnerability assessment for Winthrop NFH projected the climate change impacts for all of the fish species reared at the hatchery. Steelhead, like those pictured, are raised at Winthrop NFH for the first 14 months of their lives until they are released into the Methow River in April and May of each year. (Credit: USFWS)

Vulnerability to climate change is a function of several factors: sensitivity, exposure, impact, and adaptive capacity.

  • Sensitivity is the degree to which a system is likely to be affected by climate change. For example, a NFH that is already rearing fish at maximum fish densities will be very sensitive to negative impacts of climate change.
  • Exposure is the quantified prediction of change (e.g., water temperature) that may occur at a particular NFH as a result of climate change.
  • Impact is defined as the combination of sensitivity and exposure. A sensitive NFH may be impacted by even a small change in climate. Conversely, if exposure is great enough, it may also affect less sensitive NFHs.
  • Adaptation is defined as how well a system may be able to adapt to change. Some NFHs will be able to adapt to climate change impacts better than others.

The combined effect of future climate change impact and adaptive capacity leads to an understanding of the vulnerability of a hatchery to climate change. Ultimately, impacts for which there is little or no adaptive capacity are vulnerabilities for the hatchery.

The Quantitative Assessment Process

Vulnerability Model
This plot depicts the projected change in snowmelt runoff for the Methow River basin upstream of Winthrop NFH between the historical and 2040s time periods. As shown, snowmelt runoff is predicted to occur significantly earlier by the 2040s under the A1B greenhouse gas emissions scenario. (Credit: Victoria O'Byrne, USFWS)

While the nationally-implemented qualitative model provides useful insight into NFHs' vulnerability to climate change, the Pacific Region is interested in conducting more rigorous quantitative analyses. To achieve a quantitative understanding of potential climate change impacts to NFH programs, Service scientists within the Pacific Region developed a model that describes how fish growth may change in the future due to climate change. The process involves three primary steps:

  1. Scientists use global climate data to develop scaled-down models of individual river basins.
  2. Climate data is then scaled down to the local watershed of a hatchery and combined with facility operations information to produce a facility-specific summary of possible climate change impacts.
  3. Hatchery Evaluation Teams, partners, and other technical experts discuss the impacts identified in steps 1 and 2 to determine which might significantly affect the facility and identify possible adaptive measures.

Management Applications

Climate change vulnerability assessments facilitate responsible and proactive allocation of resources at local and regional levels by identifying risks and opportunities due to climate change. The assessments help to:

  • Determine the specific NFH programs and species that are most vulnerable to climate change.
  • Determine the aspects of NFH's facilities that will be most affected by climate change.
  • Allow response strategies to be incorporated into facilities' planning.
  • Inform region wide policies for fish propagation and hatchery reform.

Pilot Assessment at Winthrop NFH

Aerial View of Winthrop NFH

Aerial view of Winthrop NFH during the summer. (Credit: USFWS)
The programs at Winthrop NFH were chosen by the Pacific Region Fisheries Resources Program to serve as a pilot evaluation of the quantitative model within the Pacific Region. The full report uses information provided by the hatchery and climate change projections to determine the NFH's vulnerability to climate change by the year 2040 and summarize possible adaptive strategies. Read the full report below.

Quantitative vulnerability assessments of other NFHs in the Pacific Region are underway.


  • Climate Impacts Group at University of Washington
  • Pacific Region Climate Change Board
  • Yakama Nation

Additional Links


General Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Questions:
Don Campton
Science Advisor

Modeling Questions:
Doug Peterson
Quantitative Ecology & Technology, Senior Scientist
360-425-6072, x302

National Fish Hatchery Questions:
Chris Pasley
Hatchery Manager

Last updated: April 29, 2014

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