Fishermen’s Views of a Changing Ocean


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Fishermen’s Views of a Changing Ocean

By Michael Conathan | Thursday, January 15, 2015

When we think about climate change, we tend to think of it in terms of future impact. The commonly accepted target among scientists and climate activists is that society must keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. … But for commercial fishermen,* climate change is not a future economic problem: It is a problem right now, and it is costing fisherman both income and jobs. ….The profession of fishing is often multigenerational, with knowledge typically passed down from parent to child to grandchild. The combination of constant exposure to all kinds of weather; the consistent logging of data in the form of catch totals and locations; and a seemingly imperceptible understanding of life over, on, and beneath the waves puts fishermen collectively in a unique position to assess the ecosystems that sustain their livelihoods and that, in turn, nourish the rest of us…..More directly relevant to this report is the fact that in the Northeast, lobster populations have been devastated in recent years in the waters of Long Island Sound and off the southern coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, from 1998 to 2011, the amount of lobster caught annually in Long Island Sound fell from 3.7 million pounds to just 142,000 pounds, a decline of more than 95 percent. While scientists have not yet been able to confirm the cause of this decline, it is becoming increasingly clear that warming water temperatures are a major factor. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which coordinates management of the lobster fishery, has found that lobsters are “moving to deeper, cooler waters, thereby concentrating their populations in much smaller areas” in southern New England. To determine fishermen’s perspectives on these changes, the Center for American Progress contracted with Edge Research to conduct a survey of New England commercial fishermen in summer 2014. Edge Research completed telephone surveys  of nearly 600 permit holders in the northeast multispecies fishery—better known as the groundfishery because it targets bottom-dwelling fish such as cod, haddock, and flounders—as well as the lobster fisheries in Maine and Massachusetts. …. Here are a few key results from the fishermen surveyed:

  • Although roughly two-thirds of them identify politically as either “conservative” or “moderate,” fishermen who say climate change is happening outnumber deniers by four-to-one.
  • 65 percent of fishermen surveyed believe climate change could leave them “unable to profit” and ultimately “forced out” of their fishery.
  • A plurality—roughly 40 percent—of them believe observed ocean changes are a “bad thing” for their business, while about 20 percent say it’s a mixed bag and just 10 percent think it’s a “good thing,” with the remaining 30 percent unsure.
  • 40 percent of groundfishermen, 44 percent of Massachusetts lobstermen, and 63 percent of Maine lobstermen say they have noticed “warmer water temperatures.”
  • More than 80 percent of those who have noticed a warming trend attribute it to climate change.
  • In ranking the environmental challenges their industry faces, 36 percent of fishermen listed “ocean warming” as a major problem—roughly equivalent to the 37 percent who listed “declining fish stocks,” the 35 percent who listed “bycatch” of nontargeted species, and the 33 percent who listed “overfishing.” “Water quality” came in at 31 percent, and “ocean acidification” came in at 29 percent.
  • In each fishery, at least 40 percent say they are catching new fish species in areas where those species have not traditionally been found.
  • Fishermen who have been on the water for more than 20 years are somewhat more likely than their less experienced colleagues to perceive climate-related changes as a “serious problem.”….

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