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Climate change and UK fisheries – perceptions of risk and possible adaptation options

This week, the Third International Symposium on the Effects of Climate Change on the World’s Oceans takes place in Santos, Brazil and we are featuring a number of articles throughout the week from speakers at the symposium.
Published: 23 March 2015

John K. Pinnegar, Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Lowestoft, UK is an invited speaker at Workshop 5: Moving Towards Climate-Ready Fishery Systems: Regional comparisons of climate adaptation in marine fisheries​.

Climate change is having a profound impact on European fish populations with 72% of species having responded to warming by changing distribution and/or abundance over the past 28 years. The fisheries sector is having to adapt in response, with new species being targeted, changes in fishing gears and in the location where fishing vessels are now operating.

The perceptions and priorities of stakeholders in the UK fishing sector with regard to climate change threats have been explored in a series of recent studies and face-to-face interviews. The UK fishing industry includes operators of varying adaptive capacity. The ability of some segments to adapt is much more constrained than others, notably small vessels may be particularly vulnerable, because they are not able to migrate to distant fishing grounds, and often they can not afford new gears.

During the winter of 2013/2014 a procession of strong storm events battered the UK coast and this this had devastating consequences for the inshore fishing industry. Many vessels were tied up in port for more than 5 months, with implications for revenues, profits and local economies. This highlighted that key threats can be related to changes in storm frequency and severity as well as changes in seawater temperatures. Long-term projections for storminess from climate models are notoriously uncertain. Some models suggest that northwest Europe might experience fewer storms in the future and others suggest an increase. In general, models suggest that climate change could alter the position of storm tracks, although the resulting change in storm intensity that this might imply is not clear. 85% of fishermen interviewed as part of the survey suggested that they would elect to stay in port during bad weather due to risk of gear loss and increased fuel consumption.

In interviews with fishermen regarding their worries, some of the main climate change concerns included inundation and damage to shore-based infrastructure, disruption of routes to market, changes in the physical working conditions at sea, but also changes in the distribution, migration and relative abundance of species in the environment. Difficulties were envisaged where stocks move across international boundaries and where there are restrictive quotas in place (e.g. mackerel). Also, the issue of potential 'choke species' was raised, for example northern hake, a warm-water species, has witnessed a dramatic increase in the North Sea in recent years (having been largely absent for over 50 years). If discards are banned as part of management revisions, the relatively low quota for hake in the North Sea could be a limiting factor that may result in a premature closure of the entire demersal mixed fishery.

In the United Kingdom, a Climate Change Act​ was introduced in 2008 requiring that a risk assessment is carried out every five years to determine how industries might be impacted by climate change.  The government can require sectors to put in place measures so that they remain robust to emerging threats or are able to capitalize on future opportunities. This has prompted a wealth of new research.



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Brixham UK, March 2013. ​Photo:Ó Simon Armstrong, Cefas, UK.

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Climate change and UK fisheries – perceptions of risk and possible adaptation options

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