Climate Change and Fisheries

QUESTION: Following the Climate Change Convention in Durban, I was struck that very little coverage was given to fisheries. Oceans seem a good place to start. – Edwin, Brisbane.

ANSWER: In the wake of Durban some have criticised the Convention’s lack of specific marine-related outcomes and the perceived marginalization of marine environmental and fisheries-related issues when discussing Climate Change. It is true that the Convention hosted an Oceans Day, charged with keeping marine issues in the spotlight, but it does often seem that when negotiations begin the focus is on factories, cars and airplanes (causes) and not fish stocks (effects). This is understandable – manufacturing and transport (and in the end individuals) will shoulder the heaviest corrective burdens, but to those of us who work with fisheries and aquaculture it all can feel a bit cart-before-the-horse.

Oceans make up the majority of the Earth’s surface and play a dominant role in the systems governing our atmosphere. We have already begun experiencing marine-related effects of Climate Change including sea level rise and extreme weather events. Small Island Developing States and Developing Coastal Communities are particularly at risk of early and profound negative impact. Ocean acidification, warming and deoxygenation are all happening now and will continue. It is postulated that ocean currents themselves may shift, or even reverse, with cataclysmic results. Undoubtably all of the aforementioned will impact fisheries and aquaculture.

The Durban Co-Chairs’ report Climate, Oceans, People states that combating these effects will require an integrated strategy for oceans and coasts, saying we must:

  • Enact stringent and immediate reductions in CO2 emissions
  • Deepen understanding and policy approaches to support “Blue Carbon”
  • Accelerate progress on mitigation approaches using oceans and coasts
  • Undertake climate change adaptation in vulnerable coastal areas
  • Build the capacity of coastal and island areas to predict, understand, and respond to the risks posed by climate change
  • Work with coastal countries to raise awareness about the implications of climate change impacts on ocean and coastal areas
  • Perhaps suggestions like “deepen understanding and policy approaches to support Blue Carbon” seem a bit esoteric but it adds a bit of immediacy to note that we may have just recently witnessed the first large-scale, fisheries-based Climate Change-derived political intrigue. Earlier this year when the European Union blocked landings of mackerel from Icelandic boats at EU ports, it was according to some a direct reaction to Iceland seeking to benefit from warmer sea temperatures and a corresponding northern movement of mackerel stocks. Whether this particular instance of warmer conditions is indeed Climate Change-related is a bit beside the point, it is a foreshadowing of the kinds of fisheries-associated conflicts that will inevitably arise as environmental conditions change.

    One of the most intriguing quandaries when discussing climate change is just this, how the political realm will respond when addressing long-term contingencies. Issues will rarely be clear-cut, blending disparate and semi-related issues such as population growth, migration, border conflict and trade agreement (so-called ‘front burner’ issues).

    We are reminded of the damming of the Colorado River, done so to provide vital energy and fresh water for the South Western US, but with the consequence that the river itself now peters out in the desert of Northern Mexico (it no longer reaches the sea). As Climate Change is predicted to drastically affect the hydrosphere and weather patterns, we will most likely see these sorts of situations arise more and more as valuable fresh water resources are allocated not with downstream fisheries in mind but along political lines. The Colorado River Compact of 1922 itself, which ushered in the damming of the river, was a snarl of political and legal intrigue fuelled by developer and agricultural concerns. Suffice it to say, neither the downstream Mexican fisherman, nor the indigenous fish populations, were even at the table.

    So what do we make of it? We at Deep Blue believe in the scientific evidence – that the Earth’s climate is changing and that this change is at least partially due to man. We also believe that oceans and the biological system supporting marine ecosystems will be affected early and fundamentally. We advise that the recommendations made in Climate, Oceans, People be incorporated into all policy dealing with development which may in any way affect the marine environment. It will do us no good to squabble over TACs and quotas only to have any gains nullified by Climate Change.

    To be blunt, failure to address Climate Change will not only create tragic outcomes, but will also be a terrible indictment on humanity itself. Our species has faced many monumental challenges in the past, and failure so many times was due to ignorance and the nonexistence of the scientific tools necessary to understand the problem. But today we know, and we have been warned. Our failure on Climate Change will more than anything be a moral failure of will.

    Reed McFarland
    European Coordinator
    Deep Blue Public Relations

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