Aquaculture and Freshwater Fisheries

Today, approximately a third of seafood is grown in aquaculture, and that number rises to half if seafood raised for animal feed is included. As the fastest growing source of animal protein on the planet, aquaculture is widely touted as critical for meeting growing demands for food. Although aquaculture avoids some of the climate impacts associated with wild fish harvesting, others (e.g., ocean acidification) are equally challenging. Indeed, the current predominance of aquaculture facilities in estuaries and bays may exacerbate some of the impacts of ocean acidification (Miller et al., 2009). In addition, since different forms of aquaculture may require a variety of other natural resources such as water, feed, and energy to produce seafood, there may be much broader indirect impacts of climate change on this rapidly growing industry.

Freshwater fisheries face most of the same challenges from climate change as those in saltwater, as well as some that are unique. Forecasting the consequences of warming on fish population dynamics is complicated, because details of future climate at relatively small geographic scales (e.g., seasonal and daily variation, regional variation across watersheds) are critical to anticipating fish population responses (Littell et al., 2009). Yet, as noted in Chapter 6, regional and local aspects of climate change are the hardest to project. Expected effects include elevated temperatures, reduced dissolved oxygen (Kalff, 2002), increased stratification of lakes (Gaedke et al., 1998; Kalff, 2002), and elevated pollutant toxicity (Ficke et al., 2007). Although the consequences of some of these changes are predictable when taken one at a time, the complex nature of interactions between their effects makes forecasting change for even a single species in a single region daunting (Littell et al., 2009). In addition to altering these physical and chemical characteristics of freshwater, climate change will also alter the quantity, timing, and variability of water flows (Mauget, 2003; Ye et al., 2003; Chapter 8). Climate-driven alterations of the flow regime will add to the decades or even centuries of alterations of stream and river flows through other human activities (e.g., urbanization, water withdrawals, dams; Poff et al., 2007). Finally, changes in lake levels that will result from changed patterns of precipitation, runoff, groundwater flows, and evaporation could adversely affect spawning grounds for some species, depending on bathymetry. While the full ramifications of these changes for freshwater fish require further analysis, there is evidence that coldwater fish such as salmon and trout will be especially sensitive to them. For example, some projections suggest that half of the wild trout population of the Appalachians will be lost; in other areas of the nation, trout losses could range as high as 90 percent (Williams et al., 2007).

Globally, precipitation is expected to increase overall, and more of it is expected to occur in extreme events and as rain rather than snow, but anticipated regional changes in precipitation vary greatly and are highly uncertain (see Chapter 8). As a result, major alterations of stream and lake ecosystems are forecast in coming decades, but the details remain highly uncertain (Ficke et al., 2007). Although freshwater fish and invertebrates are typically as mobile as their marine counterparts, their ability to shift their range in response to climate change may be greatly compromised by the challenges of moving between watersheds. In contrast to the rapid changes in species ranges in the sea (Perry et al., 2005), freshwater fish and invertebrates may be much more constrained in their poleward range shifts in response to climate change, especially in east-west stream systems (Allan et al., 2005; McDowall, 1992).

In the United States, per capita consumption of fish and shellfish from the sea and estuaries is more than 15 times higher than consumption of freshwater fish (EPA, 2002); nevertheless, freshwater fish are important as recreation and as food for some U.S. populations. Globally, however, freshwater and diadromous fish (fish that migrate between fresh- and saltwater) account for about a quarter of total fish and shellfish consumption (Laurenti, 2007) and in many locations serve as the predominant source of protein (Bayley, 1981; van Zalinge et al., 2000). Given the large uncertainty in how climate change impacts on freshwater ecosystems will affect the fisheries they support, this important source of food and recreation is at considerable risk.

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