Quantcast
Food
Warming water puts fish on the move. Fishermen adapt, or fall behind. Here, a boat cruises Canada's Mackenzie River. Leslie Philipp/ Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Fish and Fishermen Already Moving to Survive Climate Change

By Amy McDermott

The Inuvialuit and Gwich'in peoples spend their summers fishing off the coast of Canada's Yukon Territory. For generations, they've trekked from towns around the Western Arctic to a spit called Shingle Point, where the Mackenzie River's braided flows spill off North America into the Beaufort Sea. The nutrient-rich waters at the mouth of the Mackenzie are fat with marine fish, drawn in by the brief abundance of Arctic summer. Indigenous families subsist on these fish and other wild resources throughout the warm months.


Arctic peoples still live by seasonal rhythms. Rhythms that are now shifting because of climate change. Fish are moving to new places as the water warms, and changing the timing of their arrival at Shingle Point. In the Canadian Arctic, and elsewhere around the world, fishermen have to change too.

What happens to fish, happens to fishermen. Flux in the ocean is playing out in parallel on land, in the lives of the people who depend on the sea. Both are caught in shifting tides.

The Yukon coast, near Shingle Point. Indigenous people have seen changes here for years. Patrick Potter / Arctic Coastal Dynamics / Flickr

Sea Change

As carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere, they trap heat like a blanket around Earth. Seawater absorbs the majority of this excess warmth, raising the ocean's temperature, especially near the surface.

Warming water puts fish on the move, said fisheries scientist Johann Bell of the University of Wollongong, Australia, and of Conservation International. Different species prefer different thermal ranges, he said, and some fish are already moving poleward, or into deeper areas, to find more comfortable climes. Changing temperatures can also tweak the timing of big natural events, like spawning.

Off northeast Tasmania, for example, water temperatures are rising fast. As the mercury climbs, some critters are moving in, while others move out. Warmth-loving shellfish, like urchins, have invaded in the last few decades, while the region's economically important rock lobsters have declined.

Climate change is a mixed bag of opportunities and losses for fishermen. They are adapting in a variety of ways as fish relocate to new areas, according to a 2017 study led by ethnoecologist Valentina Savo of Simon Fraser University and the Hakai Institute in British Columbia. Some fishermen catch new species, or diversify into other livelihoods, like farming, she said. Others follow their target species into new waters.

Chasing fish is risky, said systems ecologist Cedar Morton, a doctoral student at Simon Fraser University who coauthored the study. Following stocks into deeper, rougher waters can be dangerous, he said. It's a financial risk too, when fishing takes more time and fuel to go farther from home.

Morton would know. Before becoming a scientist, he was a commercial fisherman in British Columbia, off Vancouver Island. "When we had a storm out there," he said, "sometimes we'd be socked in for three or four days." Stuck in a cove, waiting out the storm, fishermen waste time and resources. "Having that happen more and more starts to have an effect on a fisher's livelihood," Morton said.

Climate change brings wins and losses for fishermen. In Tasmania, rock lobsters declined, and urchins invaded.iStock.com / brytta

On the Horizon

Out at Shingle Point, indigenous fishermen have noticed changes for decades. They've seen more freshwater species, fewer flounders and sculpin and unusual arrival times for some fish in the bay, according to a series of interviews published by the Canadian government in 2016.

"The timing of fish, char has changed since I started coming to Shingle," said one interviewee, who remained anonymous in the study. "Last couple years char is later in the season maybe early August late July."

Changes aren't limited to fish. Eighty percent of people in the study noticed the water getting warmer, and 47 percent said air temperatures seemed hotter too. They saw less sea ice and snow cover over the years, and fewer grazing caribou.

Consequences of climate change are far-reaching, especially in the quickly-warming Arctic. But climate is hardly the biggest problem for fishermen. Overfishing, mismanagement and poor regulation are all larger problems right now, Savo said.

"Many of these communities don't see things separately ... they understand that all these factors are linked together," she explained. Climate change is a bad guy, Savo said, but it's only one of the things affecting fish.

Fish and fishermen are interlaced, like the tributaries of a river weaving toward the sea. They flow together into the vastness of a hotter, less-predictable future.

A dog stands watch, with Inuvialuit boats in the distance, on the Yukon coast.Michael Swan / Flickr

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Energy
Greenpeace fracking protest in London's Parliament Square. DAVID HOLT / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

5 Earthquakes Recorded in England Just Days After Fracking Restarts

A string of small earthquakes were reported the town of Blackpool just days after fracking operations restarted in England after a seven year hiatus, raising concerns that the controversial drilling process could eventually trigger bigger temblors.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) detected five quakes since Thursday near the contentious Preston New Road site operated by UK shale gas firm Cuadrilla Resources.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
OSCE Parliamentary Assembly / CC BY-SA 2.0

New Green Strategy: Change the Electorate, Not the Election

By Tara Lohan

How little do elected officials care about climate change? Look no further than a recent U.S. Senate hearing about the biggest threats facing the country, where lawmakers asked a single question about global warming during the entire three-hour event.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
The ongoing Taylor Energy oil spill, photographed on Sept. 2, 2012. LEAN Louisiana Environmental Action Network

The Largest U.S. Oil Spill You've Probably Never Heard of Is Still Leaking After 14 Years

Yet another reason to #KeepItInTheGround. A 14-year chronic oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico could surpass BP's Deepwater Horizon spill as the largest offshore disaster in U.S. history, the Washington Post reported.

The spill stems from a Taylor Energy-owned production platform located 12 miles off the coast of Louisiana that was toppled by an underwater mudslide caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old activist from Sweden, addressed a crowd at what campaigners say was Finland's largest ever climate demonstration on Saturday. Svante Thunberg / Twitter

Teen Climate Activist to Crowd of Thousands: 'We Can't Save the World by Playing by the Rules'

By Jessica Corbett

Addressing some 10,000 people in Helsinki on Saturday at what some campaigners are calling Finland's largest ever climate demonstration, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg urged marchers to fight for the major systemic changes that experts have said are necessary to limit greenhouse gas emissions and avert a looming climate catastrophe.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
As more studies affirm the health benefits of nature, doctors are writing it into their prescriptions. Michael H / Getty Images

Natural Medicine: More Doctors Prescribing Time Outdoors

Birdwatch for long-tailed ducks. Search for shells. Sketch some snowdrops.

These are some of the prescriptions you might receive if you go to a doctor in the Shetland Islands of Scotland and say that you are suffering from stress, heart disease, diabetes, mental health problems or other chronic conditions.

Keep reading... Show less
Oceans
Enipniastes eximia, aka "headless chicken monster." NOAA

'Headless Chicken Monster' to Help Antarctic Conservation Efforts

Enypniasties eximia—a deep-sea swimming sea cucumber scientists have affectionately called the "headless chicken monster"has been caught on camera for the first time in Antarctic waters thanks to new underwater camera technology developed by Australian researchers.

Footage of the finned sea creature will be used to aid important marine conservation efforts in the Southern Ocean.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Animal Collective performing at The Concord in Chicago on Feb. 2, 2016. swinfinfan / CC BY 2.0

Animal Collective’s 'Tangerine Reef': Myth, Mystery and Subtle Environmentalism

By David Colgan

In a way, you could consider coral reefs the rainforests of the oceans—dense, mysterious and full of life.

Covering less than two percent of the ocean floor, they are home to a quarter of all marine species. But unlike rainforests, a longtime conservation focus, corals have received relatively little attention. The alien-looking seascapes have captivated explorers, divers and others privileged enough to visit, but remained largely out of sight for most people.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Giant Petrel flying over the South Atlantic. Liam Quinn / CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s Giant Mice Vs. Rare Seabirds on This Remote South Atlantic Island

On a remote island in the South Atlantic, a evolutionary battle is playing out between giant mice and rare sea birds. So far, the mice are winning.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!