New risks and opportunities for fishing industry with climate change

New risks and opportunities for fishing industry with climate change
By Denis Loctier

Can global warming leave us without fish, and fishermen without an income? Or does the new climate come with new opportunities? Here, in Italy, and across Europe, scientists and fishermen are looking for answers.

Ettore Malfer has been fishing on Lake Garda all his life. In the past, there were plenty of eels and endemic carpione fish (similar to trout). Now, he says, they've almost disappeared. He doesn’t know why, but he suspects that this may have something to do with the changing climate which is harming the lake.

Malfer said, “I started fishing right after my elementary school, I was seven or eight, and now I’m over 80”.

“About 30-40 years ago we had four distinct seasons — spring, summer, autumn, and winter," Malfer added, and "Nowadays it’s all become very confusing — winters aren’t as cold as they used to be, and summers are way too hot.”

To find answers, Lake Garda fishermen are working with scientists collaborating in a European research project ClimeFish that studies the effects of climate change on fishing and aquaculture.

The local fishermen cooperative, which has 12 fishing boats, is providing some data and samples to the researchers.

Alessandra Mazzola, an Outreach manager at the Garda fishermen cooperative said, “Since we saw a drop in the amount of fish caught, it was very important to work together with the researchers, to give them everything necessary to understand the causes of these changes, and to find possible solutions.”

Lake Garda is one of 15 case studies that include freshwater lakes and ponds, marine fisheries and fish farms from all around Europe.

“We've talked to the stakeholders and asked — what do you see as the main challenges in the future?" said Michaela Aschan, the ClimeFish project coordinator, Professor in Fisheries Biology and Management, and at the UiT Arctic University of Norway. "And then we went back to our biologists and modellers and asked them to adjust their models,” she added.

Researchers see that the warming climate in Europe is making fish and shellfish grow faster, which may be good news for the industry. But overfishing and other threats are also on the rise.

Mariola Norte, Scientific communicator, CETMAR said, “The main problem the fisheries are facing is the migration of stock to areas further north, especially in the northeastern Atlantic area. We also see that in the case of aquaculture they're facing a greater proliferation of parasites and more diseases.”

Based on their analysis, researchers are preparing a set of practical recommendations for policymakers and the industry on mitigating climate change effects. They’re also preparing a software tool that helps to manage fish stocks more efficiently.

“We want to present to users’ different scenarios that are possible due to climate change. Within these scenarios, we’re focusing on possible outcomes — what would happen if parameters change. Having this knowledge, the end users can take appropriate actions,” said Astrid Sturm, Computer scientist, Brandenburg University of Technology.

From these sea trawlers in Sweden to innovative aquafarms in the Canary Islands — the changing climate is presenting the whole industry with new risks and opportunities. That makes it important for EU states to review their standards and guidelines protecting fish and supporting the industry.

Michaela Aschan added, “It's up to us as human beings to do proper regulation of the stocks and to agree among each other — and then we will have a good fishery.”

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Journalist • Denis Loctier