Arctic fisheries and global warming
A trawler East of Greenland some 30 years ago, exploring the possibilities for shrimp fisheries
Global warming was recently an item on the agenda at the COP17 meeting in Durban, South Africa (28 November - 11 December 2011). It was emphasised in the meetings that it is important to begin adaptation for exposed and vulnerable poor communities which are negatively affected by the consequences of global warming. Several fishery communities worldwide fall into this category.
Global warming affects all fishery communities worldwide. The consequences of the impact are different in each case, but almost all will have to go through adaptations related to the fisheries themselves, as well as to the local infrastructure and logistics to ensure that the communities continue to function well. It is important that these adaptations are initiated as soon as possible to avoid eventual chaos and catastrophe.
In this article, however, I shall concentrate on the fisheries in the North Atlantic Arctic Region, which – in the short and medium term – will experience a positive effect of global warming on high seas fisheries. Exploiting this positive effect will also require adaptation as soon as possible.
North Pole melting
The North Pole is now melting faster than previously predicted. This has a major impact on marine life and on the fishery communities within and around the North Atlantic, especially if the Greenland Ice Cap melts at the same pace.
It has been ascertained that the sea ice surrounding the North Pole is melting quickly, and we know for sure that global warming leads to an increasing temperature in the oceans, including the North Atlantic. However, we do not yet know exactly what influence this will have on the currents, the temperature and the salinity in the Arctic waters. Nevertheless, the increased temperatures will, with certainty, lead to more ice free water, increased ice free coastal areas, and probably to new fishing grounds.
Global warming will lead to new fish species adapting to the new conditions and some of the species will likely migrate north. Unknown stocks of fish and shrimp will be expected in the new ice free areas. Widespread fish species in the Northern Atlantic south of the Polar Circle are also anticipated to migrate north to the Arctic region.
The first paper, by Ragnar Arnason of the University of Iceland, deals with the possible effects of ocean warming on the fisheries and economies of Iceland and Greenland. Waters around Iceland and Greenland were considerably warmer in the 1920s and 1930s than before or after, and in the 1960s, these waters cooled considerably, which reduced the range of cod and drove herring away. Higher temperatures in these areas are, therefore, likely to improve yields in cod and herring fisheries (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070516132955.htm).
A paper by Arne Eide, Norwegian College of Fishery Science, examines the effects of global warming on the cod fishery in the Barents Sea. He allows for cooling and warming because the Barents Sea could be an area where global warming actually causes cooling due to a weakening of the Gulf Stream. He finds that the management regime is much more important for development of the stock and the economics of the fishery than the temperature changes being considered (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070516132955.htm).
North Atlantic fisheries change
The fisheries in the North Atlantic are partly regulated by two organisations, NAFO and NEAFC, but regulated to a larger extent by national interests within different countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZ). Within the North Atlantic Arctic area this includes Canada, Greenland, Norway, Iceland and Russia.
Since the 1950s, North Atlantic fisheries have been making adjustments according to changing conditions, such as cod migration, conservations, salmon cartels, focus on new economically interesting species (shrimp, redfish, Greenland halibut and others), and new negotiating partners (ICNAF, NAFO, NEAFC, EU, Greenpeace and the MSC). This time, North Atlantic fisheries will have to adjust to the changed conditions related to global warming.
Legal, infrastructural and logistical issues will require adjustment in totally different ways from what has been seen before. The challenges are new, but on the other hand, new possibilities will occur.
By and large, the fishing fleet required to exploit these new possibilities is already available. The challenge, however, will mainly consist of assuring that the species migrating north, as well as possible newly discovered stocks, will be exploited in a sustainable manner. It would be wrong to express our gratitude for new fishing possibilities with increased oil consumption and CO2 emission per kilo of caught fish.
With regard to Greenland and Canada, a change of composition of species caught for processing onboard or on shore is likely to happen. There will be more fishing grounds available and there will be larger open coastal areas both in Northwest Greenland and on Baffin Island in Canada. When more migrating fish and straddling species reach the waters between Western Greenland and Baffin Island and new fishing grounds for shrimp and fish become accessible for the industrial fisheries, increased fishing opportunities will give rise to new investments in the fisheries sector. These investments depend on how Greenland and Canada choose to develop capacity in their respective fisheries sectors and emerge in new areas as a result of climate change. This development policy will be an important issue as the EU and other countries will put pressure on Greenland and Canada, in order to obtain a portion of the increased fishing opportunities. Increased fishing possibilities will lead to increased turnover and revenues, giving room for new investments and attracting interests from other fishery nations (apart from the Arctic nations).
Furthermore, it will be important for Greenland and Canada to focus on a sustainable fisheries adaptation related to the local communities whose existence is based on inshore and local coastal fisheries.
When the temperature increases in the Greenland Sea (by Eastern Greenland and Svalbard) and the Barents Sea, increased ice free waters and ice free coastal areas will occur in Northern Greenland as well. Straddling species and various fish stocks will migrate north and consequently, commercial fisheries centers will attempt to follow (maybe not all the way to the North Pole, but substantially further north). A possibility of developing fisheries on unexploited stocks existing for years under the ice may also emerge (stocks of previously unfished shrimp will probably exist).
One of the effects of the fish migration might prove to be a “change of nationality” of the different fish species. How this will be handled by the authorities is of course a difficult issue – the current commotion over the North Atlantic mackerel can be referred to as an example.
Considering the way the fisheries sector is currently structured, the northbound fish migration will have a negative impact on the environment. Unless this structure is changed, the migration will lead to increased oil consumption and increased CO2 emissions. A restructuring of the fisheries sector is therefore essential. How this new structure is achieved will depend on fisheries agreements to be agreed upon by the coastal nations. In any circumstance, large investments will be crucial in order to exploit the species caught further north, and near the North Pole, in the future. It will perhaps be necessary to establish facilities in Northeast Greenland for servicing the future fisheries.
Adapting the future fisheries in the North Atlantic region, especially within the Arctic areas, must be based on expected increased fishery possibilities in these areas, and consequently on a greater international interest in these new possibilities. In the future, fish processing vessels and other fishing vessels will be able to sail from the Pacific north of Greenland through the Northwest and Northeast Passages to participate in the future Arctic fisheries. Likewise, these same routes can service the North Atlantic fishing industry export to the Far East.
The fact that the future fisheries will exist at the top of the world, in addition to today’s currently existing fishing grounds, will inevitably require onshore investments in new areas that service both the fisheries and the transport sectors. Assuring that the sensitive Arctic environment does not bear the costs for increased fishing possibilities must also be high on the agenda.
Søren Abrahamsen has more than 25 years experience in the management of deep-sea fishing operations in the North Atlantic and North Pacific. Mr Abrahamsen is the director and owner of EnviroBaltic, now working worldwide as consultants to the fishing industry with fisheries management, industrial management and training.
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