Media Let Climate Change Off The Hook In Fishing Debate

Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

As government scientists and policymakers attempt to safeguard disappearing populations of Atlantic Cod off of the New England coast with stricter catch limits, state and national media continue to ignore the role of anthropogenic climate change in displacing cod from their longtime habitats.

For over four hundred years, New Hampshire has maintained a thriving commercial fishing industry, reliant to a large degree on groundfish like the cod. Cod are now disappearing from the New England coast, and scientists are attributing this disappearance in part to warmer and more acidic waters -- driven by industrial emissions of carbon dioxide -- that are driving cod northward into preferred cold-water habitats.

Rising ocean temperatures pose a challenge for fish and wildlife managers attempting to protect these cod populations (and, by extension, the fishing industry in New England). From The Boston Globe (emphasis added):

Warming waters and an evolving ocean ecosystem possibly related to man-made climate change are contributing to the anemic populations, not just decades of overfishing, government officials say.


"While we are not blaming fishermen, this is not good news,'' said John Bullard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's regional chief. "We can control overfishing -- it's hard but we can do it -- but how do you control this?"

The only option, Bullard and other regulators say, is to dramatically restrict fishing to give the bottom-hugging fish any hope of a comeback.

On the February 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, New Hampshire Republican and noted "climate change skeptic" Sen. Kelly Ayotte attacked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) attempts to protect U.S. cod populations by implementing stricter catch limits. No one during this segment mentioned climate change:

And in Ayotte's home state, New Hampshire's largest newspaper -- the Union Leader -- has been following suit.

According to a Nexis search, none of the Union Leader's news coverage of new fishing standards mentioned climate change. A February 2 editorial attacking cod fishing quotas did cite a 2005 piece in the ICES Journal of Marine Science that found cod are probably migrating north because of warming waters, and quoted the report's author as stating, "It is quite clear that, with future warming, there will be a northward migration of cod."

However, the Union Leader's editorial board omitted the author's conclusions that man-made climate change is partially to blame and that stricter fishing regulations would be necessary to preserve cod populations. From the ICES article noting that, in order to preserve stocks, "fishing pressure must ease as warming increases":

Anthropogenic warming is projected to lead to increased air and sea temperatures globally and proportionately higher increases in the Arctic and Subarctic regions (IPCC, 2001). Indeed, much recent evidence indicates that dramatic warming is already occurring (ACIA, 2004).


I have outlined some of the changes that I believe are likely to occur to Atlantic cod in the North Atlantic in response to increased warming, based on the current understanding of the effects of temperature variability on cod. The responses include the disappearance of some of the southern cod stocks currently occupying the warmest waters, an extension in distribution northwards, perhaps including the area beyond the Barents Sea farther into the Arctic, and likely establishment of newer spawning sites in the north.


The disappearance of the southern stocks will occur more rapidly than climate warming would suggest if fishing intensity continues at its current rate (e.g. Clark et al., 2003). If these stocks are to be preserved, fishing pressure must ease as warming increases. Even with a relaxation of fishing pressure, climate changes may still be enough to cause the stocks to disappear.

As the National Climate Assessment noted earlier this year, climate change has wide-ranging effects on local economies and ecosystems. It's about time media stopped ignoring its reach.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Climate Change
FOX & Friends
State Media
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