Marine Fisheries

The impacts of climate change on marine-based food systems are far less well known than impacts on agriculture, but there is rapidly growing evidence that they could be severe (see Chapter 9). This is especially problematic given that a sizeable fraction of the world's fisheries are already overexploited (Worm et al., 2009) and many are also subject to pollution from land or under stress from the decline of critical habitats like coral reefs and wetlands (Halpern et al., 2008; Sherman et al., 2009).

Year-to-year climate variability has long been known to cause large fluctuations in fish stocks, both directly and indirectly (McGowan et al., 1998; Stenseth et al., 2002), and this has always been a challenge for effective fisheries management (Walters and Parma, 1996). Similar sensitivity to longer time-scale variations in climate has been documented in a wide range of fish species from around the globe (Chavez et al., 2003; Steele, 1998), and this portends major changes in fish populations under future climate change scenarios. Successful management of fisheries will require an improved ability to forecast population fluctuations driven by climate change; this in turn demands significant new investments in research, including research on various management options (e.g., Mora et al., 2009). Fundamental shifts in management prac tices may be needed. For example, restoration planning for depleted Chinook salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest needs to account for the spatial shift in salmon habitat (Battin et al., 2007). An added complexity is that, because most of the fish catch comes from open oceans under international jurisdiction, any management regime will need to be negotiated and accepted by multiple nations to be effective.

Fished species tend to be relatively mobile, either as adults or young (larvae drifting in the plankton). As a result, their distributions can shift rapidly compared to those of land animals. In recent decades, geographical shifts toward the poles of tens to hundreds of kilometers have been documented for a wide range of marine species in different areas (Grebmeier et al., 2006; Lima et al., 2006; Mueter and Litzow, 2008; Sagarin et al., 1999; Zacherl et al., 2003). Model projections for anticipated changes by 2050 suggest a potentially dramatic rearrangement of marine life (Cheung et al., 2009). Although such projections are based upon relatively simple models and should be treated as hypotheses, they suggest that displacements of species ranges may be sufficiently large that the fish species harvested from any given port today may change dramatically in coming decades. Fishers in many Alaskan ports are already facing much longer commutes as distributions of target species have shifted (CCSP, 2009b).

Such projected shifts in fisheries distributions are likely to be most pronounced for U.S. fisheries in the North Pacific and North Atlantic, where temperature increases are likely to be greatest and will be coupled to major habitat changes driven by reduced sea ice (CCSP, 2009b). Abrupt warming in the late 1970s, which was associated with a regime shift in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, greatly altered the marine ecosystem composition in the Gulf of Alaska (Anderson and Piatt, 1999). Rapid reductions in icedominated regions of the Bering Sea will very likely expand the habitat for subarctic piscivores such as arrowtooth flounder, cod, and pollock. Because there are presently only fisheries for cod and pollock, arrowtooth flounder may experience significant population increases with broad potential consequences to the ecosystem (CCSP, 2009b).

The effects of ocean acidification from increased absorption of CO2 by the sea (see Chapters 6 and 9) may be even more important for some fisheries than other aspects of climate change, although the overall impact of ocean acidification remains uncertain (Fabry et al., 2008; Guinotte and Fabry, 2008). Many fished species (e.g., invertebrates such as oysters, clams, scallops, and sea urchins) produce shells as adults or larvae, and the production of shells could be compromised by increased acidification (Fabry et al., 2008; Gazeau et al., 2007; Hofmann et al., 2008). Many other fished species rely on shelled plankton, such as pteropods and foraminifera, as their primary food source. Projected declines in these plankton species could have catastrophic impacts on fished species higher in the food chain. Finally, acidification can disrupt a variety of physiological processes beyond the production of shells. Hence, the potential impacts of acidification—especially in combination with other climate changes on marine fisheries—is potentially enormous, but the details remain highly uncertain (NRC, 2010f).

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