July 2, 2018, by Tim Radford
Lofoten trawlers in 2008: Fishing is one of the riskiest jobs on Earth. Image: By Ingemar08, via Wikimedia Commons
A warmer world means stormier weather ahead, and ever-greater dangers for those who work in the world’s commercial fishing fleets.
LONDON, 2 July, 2018 – Here is the shipping forecast for the next two centuries: there’s stormier weather ahead. Typhoons will be on the increase in the east China Sea. There will be a greater frequency of post-monsoon storms in the Arabian Sea.
The forecast for the Mediterranean is somewhat milder: storms could be reduced over the next 200 years. But the outlook for the northeast Atlantic is not good: autumn and winter storms are likely to increase, both in number and in intensity, off the coasts of the UK, Ireland and France.
And the impact on the fishing industry could, say the authors of a new study, be catastrophic.
Around 38 million people worldwide already engage in capture fishing, according to a study in Nature Climate Change. They regularly, the scientists say, “risk their lives in one of the most dangerous jobs on Earth.”
And as a consequence of climate change driven by global warming, fuelled by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that increase the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, fishing is about to become even more dangerous.
“Storms are a threat to fishermen’s safety, productivity, assets and jobs and to the health of billions of people”
Global warming has already begun to affect commercial fishing. As waters warm, fish begin to shift their grounds, both in the warmer seas and in the colder waters that have supported fishing industries for centuries, with troubling consequences both for international tensions and for future diets.
The researchers report that although warming could certainly alter the potential fish catch over the next 50 to 100 years, “changing storminess has the potential to cause more immediate and catastrophic impacts.”
And they argue that once researchers understand better how the fisheries industry and community cope with stormy weather, there might be ways to adjust practices and safeguard both lives and livelihoods.
Between them, capture fisheries – with trawls, seine nets and long lines – and aquaculture, or fish farming, support the livelihoods of 12% of the global population. Fish provide more than 3 billion people with around one-fifth of their animal protein: there is a lot at stake.
Fish at risk
And storms are a threat not just to fishing crews but to the fish as well. Warming waters change the composition of submarine populations and in effect gradually alter the local ecosystems. But severe storms can displace whole fish populations, interfere with the dispersal of the larvae that will become fish, and even destroy the habitat that fish depend upon.
The scientists want to see a co-ordinated examination of the hazards ahead, drawing upon expertise from psychologists, anthropologists and economists as well as marine scientists and climatologists.
“Storms are a threat to fishermen’s safety, productivity, assets and jobs and to the health of billions of people around the world who rely on fish for their daily nutrition,” said Nigel Sainsbury, a social scientist at the University of Exeter, UK, who led the study.
“Changing storminess could have serious consequences for vulnerable coastal communities around the world. Conducting research in this area is critical to support the adaptation of fisheries to climate change.” – Climate News Network
Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.