Fisheries, Aquaculture and Climate Change: A New Jersey Perspective

Fisheries, Aquaculture and Climate Change: A New Jersey Perspective

Climate change is real,
and human actions are causing it. And the amazing thing is that we’re seeing
the impacts all over the world right now including in the oceans. We have animals
that are found much closer to the poles than they they used to be. We have
animals breeding earlier in the year, and these changes cascade all the way
out. They’re affecting our fisheries. They’re affecting our economies. And
ultimately they affect our planet. Climate change is certainly real. It’s
been affecting our local businesses. It’s been affecting our local ecosystems. We can see it on a global scale, but we can also see it here in New Jersey.
Regardless of what causes it, we have climate change. We’re living in a time
when the climate is changing. So that needs to be addressed scientifically and
made part of the fisheries management process. Globally the ocean is about half
a degree warmer than it was a hundred years ago. That’s the impact of global climate change. It doesn’t sound like much, but actually compared to what marine animals are used
to that’s a very large change. It’s far outside what many species are used
to over the lifetime of an individual or an entire evolutionary lineage. We can
see fish stocks moving out of the region that were traditionally part of the
fishery. Things like lobster used to get fished here in a bigger way, and today
there’s very little lobster fishing here because the lobster have
moved north. Many species that used to be found off Virginia are now actually
being found much more commonly off New Jersey—species like black sea bass,
summer flounder. We’re also seeing shrimp that used to be more commonly found in
the southeast U.S. now showing up in marshes and estuaries in this region. So
we’re seeing many species moving north in this region that we haven’t seen
before. We historically had a mackerel fishery here ever since I’ve been in
this business, and about seven or eight years ago we started to see a decline in
mackerel catches. At the same time, we saw a drastic increase in the catch of
mackerel in Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands—fish, you know, that they
basically never had there before. We’re still collecting a lot of the
information about how impacts from climate change are filtering through
fisheries and affecting fisheries, but some of the stories are becoming quite
clear. One of the impacts we understand the best right now is on surf claims. So the species had a really big fishery here on the East Coast, but surf claims have been dying at the southern edge of the
range—so in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia as temperatures get really warm there. But, it turns out, they’re booming in Massachusetts. And what this means is
that the stock is no longer accessible to the places that used to fish it. Some
of the ports in Maryland, for example, or Virginia, now can no longer support the
fishery, and so those captains and crew have either had to shift north as
well and start fishing out of northern ports, which is very costly and very hard
on family life, and in fact they’ve had to
reposition processing plants and some of these value-added pieces of the industry. There’s a great deal of uncertainty
still associated with how climate change will affect shellfish diseases. Just like
ranges shift for fish stocks, ranges can shift for these disease pathogens as
well. One of the things that we have seen recently, which we think has something to do with warming, is an invasion of parasites in the southern part of the
scallop fishery, and that’s something that we haven’t seen before. Whether that’s caused by warming or not caused by warming, I don’t know that. But
it’s certainly something we’re very concerned with. Ocean acidification is
the other carbon dioxide problem, one that we we don’t talk about as much. When
carbon dioxide dissolves into ocean water, it actually reduces the pH. It
makes the water more acidic than it has been before, and it makes it much harder
for marine animals to make their shells. So their shells get more brittle, often
their survival goes down or the reproduction goes down. In talking with
fishermen who rely on shellfish resources or aquaculturists who grow
shellfish, I’m often asked how is ocean acidification going to affect my
business, my fishing. These people have heard what ocean acidification is, but
how it’s going to affect their bottom line isn’t clear, and I think
that’s a really important issue for us to address as a science community. For
example, sea scallops here on the East Coast is the most valuable fishery in the
United States—about 110 million dollars here in New Jersey, about 600 million
dollars nationally. And this is a species that’s very sensitive to ocean
acidification. So they’re big worries about what will happen going forward. Sea level rise is also a major issue for
coastal communities and the fishing communities that live and work in these
areas. As the ocean heats up, sea water expands, and the ocean level rises
because of that. And then at the same time, glaciers and ice caps melt, and that
additional water in the ocean also raises the sea level. We’re seeing the
docks and the infrastructure associated with the packing plants, these places are
getting flooded. For example, here in Cape May we have a number of restaurants or
businesses that get regularly flooded now, and they didn’t 20, 30 years ago.
So fisheries rely on much more than just the fish, right? So they need docks,
they need processing plants, they need suppliers for hooks and lines and nets.
And many of those businesses and other infrastructure are right along the coast, so
they’re really vulnerable to rising sea level and especially the storms that
come in on top of that. As climate change affects life in the ocean, affects where
fish are found, we’re seeing those economic impacts ripple through
fisheries, ripple through coastal communities, and ripple through regional
economies. These range shifts are happening, and they’re happening at
different rates, and we don’t know very well what the interactions might be. What
we do know is that it’s affecting the fishermen and the communities that are
physically associated with the traditional ranges. Our fisheries
regulations are based on this assumption that fish stay put. But they don’t. So for
example, quota—who gets to catch the fish— has been allocated based on where fish
were in the 80s. There’s a real problem still in the regulatory process as
concerns species moving out of the area most likely due to warming. Fish have fins for a reason. They move and they swim to where, you know, things are best
for them. And the regulatory process is very slow and very cumbersome, takes a
long time to change things around. There are many things that the fishing industry
can do to adapt. One is to work with management councils and the researchers
to understand the changes that are happening. People out on these fishing
boats are on the front lines. They’re seeing these changes in the ocean before
anyone else is seeing them.They also usually have the knowledge to know what
things used to be like so helping to communicate those those impacts
understand how the ocean is changing is is critical. I think the biggest deficit
that we have in fisheries management right now is, you know, where there’s not
enough money being spent on science. You know, we need more
science. The more we know the better we can manage. We try to provide our science
as openly and as rapidly as we can to both management agencies and industry
and academia, and hopefully that will be effective in bringing sustainable
management to these industries. Fishermen realize in order to have successful
business and for their children to have a successful business, for their
businesses to survive, that we have to have a healthy resource of sustainable,
renewable resource that we can count on. The key point is that the oceans are
warmer and more acidic than any point in recorded history, maybe even more than
any point in the history of modern humans. And I think everyone alive today should
be worried about that. This affects our economy, this affects our dinner plates,
this affects the planet. And so I think the key questions are what do we do
going forward.

local_offerevent_note August 30, 2019

account_box Gilbert Heid


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