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27 June 2017

Climate Change Negatively Impacting Fishermen’s Livelihoods

Climate change is having an increasing effect on the world’s oceans and the impact is becoming deadly. With the water acting as a defence against the sun’s excessive heat by absorbing most of it, it’s slowly grown warmer to the point that it’s badly affecting the aquatic species who call it their home.

We’ve looked into the impact of global warming on ocean life before, but now we want to consider the way in which this influences the fishing industry.

When water temperatures rise, most fish swim to higher latitudes, disturbing the nature of species native to various parts of the world. Several years ago in the Cape Cod Canal, a Sailfish was caught by a local fisherman who was shocked to discover a fish like that in Massachusetts given it generally favours the tropics and subtropics. Since then, unexpected catches have become more commonplace with species like the cobia and torpedo ray also being sighted in the area.

Examples of this movement have been documented all over, from America to Europe to Australia, all as a result of the three major effects of climate change on the ocean – warming, acidification and deoxygenation. As these processes occur, fish are either killed off or driven away and fishermen suffer as a result.

The impact differs between communities and their level of dependence on fish for their economy. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study found that places where vulnerable species provided the main source of income were likely to be at risk, whereas those with a greater range to catch would fare better.

Due to the movement of fish northward, there is essentially one big choice that many of them will have to make. They can either go where the fish go, moving to higher latitudes to continue catching the same stock, or stay where they are and focus on catching different species to earn their income. In making this decision, they have to consider whether they have the means to go northwards or not.

Tom Nies of the New England Fishery Management Council identified that:

“It may be more difficult for (small-scale) fishermen to react to climate change, because they have less ability to go longer distances, they can carry fewer fish, and they may have less familiarity with fish species in another area.”

It is also important for environmental officials to set necessary regulations that consider the impact of climate change and prevent overfishing. If these don’t keep up with the pace of changes to the environment, then the effects of global warming are likely to be felt harder than they already are. With fish crossing borders when they travel north and disrupting quotas between communities, it’s more necessary than ever for people to be prepared about what climate change means for their way of life.

This doesn’t mean that the fishing industry has to suffer massively, but the need to adapt will become essential. Marine ecologist Steve Simpsons puts it best when he says that he’s “optimistic that we can have sustainable and productive fisheries, but they’re not going to be the fish we used to catch.”

James Darvill

James is a passionate scriptwriter and reluctant poet with a talent for the dystopian. When he’s not staying up late watching the Simpsons he’s beating the world at Mario Kart, always with a glass of wine in hand.