According to new research, fisheries in the Maritimes could be facing an eight per cent hit in revenues if climate change continues at its current pace.
The finding is part of a global study released this week from the University of British Columbia. In it, researchers found that global fisheries could lose about $10 billion in revenue by the year 2050 if climate change and its impacts aren’t slowed down.
How severely regions will feel the impact varies, but overall, the drop in revenues could reach 10 per cent, according to the study titled Projected change in global fisheries revenues under climate change. Canada is expected to fare better than other countries with a six per cent drop in revenues but the study projects the Maritimes will be hit harder.
“When you think about it, the impact will be huge,” Vicky Lam, the study’s lead author, said.
The study, co-authored by four UBC researchers, attributes the drop in revenue to changing and declining fish stock. It says rising water temperatures are already forcing fish to move towards the poles meaning regions around the equator are losing their traditional fish stocks.
However, factors such as rising ocean acidity and changing salinity and oxygen levels mean fish that travel further north and south won’t necessarily survive.
“The Arctic is actually the hot spot for ocean acidification,” co-author Rashid Sumaila said. “So it’s almost like the fish is running out of hot water into acidic water, can you imagine that?”
“This actually scares the hell out of me.”
Shellfish in particular are affected by ocean acidification because it makes it more difficult for shells to develop and harden, Sumaila said.
A problem with a fix
The study’s dire warnings also come with a ray of hope. The same modelling that showed how negatively climate change can affect global fisheries also showed that with less greenhouse gas emissions and a slower rise in temperature, the fisheries could take a much smaller hit.
Sumaila said reaching that second option is possible.
“We need action on all fronts,” he said, specifying that includes all levels of government, private companies and citizens.
One way to counter some of the negative effects is to create more Marine Protected Areas in Canada, Sumaila said. Currently, less than one per cent of marine and coastal areas are protected, but Ottawa has set a goal of five per cent protection by 2017 and 10 per cent protection by 2020.
Dalhousie Unviersity’s Megan Bailey wasn’t involved with the study but said on the east coast, tougher standards for the aquaculture industry and diversifying the fish stock that can be caught will also serve to mitigate the long-term impacts of climate change on fisheries.
More importantly though, Bailey and other scientists are calling on the federal government to reverse 2013 changes to the Fisheries Act. She said those changes removed universal protections for fish habitats and instead focused on protecting commercial fish habitats.
“If we’re not protecting habitat then that’s where we’re going to get into trouble,” Bailey said.
Bailey is also the Canada Research Chair in Integrated Ocean & Coastal Governance.
She said another major step forward would be for the provincial and federal governments to meet their greenhouse gas emissions targets.