Friday, April 20 , 2018, 2:06 pm | Fair 64º


Letter to the Editor: The Fish That Got Away — Forever

"This year's spawning season for endangered winter-run Chinook salmon is looking like another disaster ..." (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 29, 2015)

"Water too warm for cod in US Gulf of Maine as stocks near collapse" (, Oct. 30. 2015)

"Dead dolphins and rotting fish could become a frequent feature on South Australian beaches due to warming seas." (the, May 28, 2013)

"Rapid drop in Lake Malawi's water levels drives down fish stocks" (, May 22, 2013)

"Sea bass stocks on brink of collapsing, warn conservationists" (, July 10, 2015)

"World's oceans facing biggest coral die-off in history, scientists warn" (, Oct. 13, 2015)

"The food chains of the world’s oceans are at risk of collapse due to the release of greenhouse gases, overfishing and localised pollution, a stark new analysis shows." (,  Oct. 15, 2015)

The stories detailed in each of these news reports have an increasingly familiar ring: stocks of fish needed by people - and larger marine predators - for food and by fishermen for their livelihood, are vanishing; infighting as to what restrictions should be placed on their commercial and/or personal capture; mutual accusations as to who is or who is not entitled to the cool water required for species survival; bitter argument as to what methods can or should be adopted to ameliorate the seemingly unstoppable disappearance of marine creatures.

Of course this phenomenon is only one of the many complicated, interconnected strands of an extensive web that climate change now weaves over planet Earth.

In California, "Managers developed a risky plan to ration cold water releases ... to avoid a repeat of 2014, when they ran out of cold water [needed by Chinook salmon to survive]... It was a gamble ... But the egg survival rate appears to have been abysmal.  The drought has cut flows from Shasta Lake ... critics contend the [US Bureau of Reclamation] released too much water to agricultural contractors ... even talk of a strong El Nino this winter is not giving ... a lot of hope, as the biggest storms are expected to hit far south of Shasta's watershed."

In the Atlantic Ocean "A rapid warming of the Gulf of Maine off the eastern United States has made the water too warm for cod, pushing stocks towards collapse despite deep reductions in the number of fish caught, a US study [by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, published in 'Science'] has shown." Maine lobster are also threatened.

"The Gulf of Maine had warmed faster than 99% of the rest of the world’s oceans in the past decade ... Scientists said the findings showed a need to take more account of changing water temperatures in managing global fish stocks usually based on historical data of catches. ...Fisheries managers cut cod quotas in recent years but cod numbers kept falling because the rapidly warming waters were making the Gulf of Maine inhospitable for the fish."

In other words the fishermen of Canada, Norway and Greenland will be able to make a living off cod that follow the northern path of cooler waters. But what happens to the fishermen and lobstermen of Maine? Do they move to West Virginia and dig coal? Another strand of the web.

Off the coast of Europe, "A temporary ban on all fishing of wild sea bass may be needed if agreement to manage stocks cannot be reached, the Marine Conservation Society said after new scientific advice warned the situation for the species was getting worse. ... The MCS said the population in the north east Atlantic had been rapidly declining since 2010 and was on track to plummet to levels from which it could struggle to recover. ... A failure by European Union countries to agree [on] a management plan for sea bass stocks led to emergency measures [that are] ...  well below the 80% reduction urged by ICES. ... Samuel Stone, fisheries officer at MCS, warned that the lack of agreement between EU member states over how to manage valuable stocks of sea bass, ... left the fish and its fishermen facing a very uncertain future. 'The stock is in rapid decline, and much more needs to be done - and urgently - to prevent this iconic and important fishery from collapsing.'"

Off the coast of Australia, "Record high sea surface temperatures from summer to April caused thousands of small fish to wash up dead in [South Australia] gulf waters.

It stressed 33 dolphins to the point they succumbed to a virus normally suppressed by immunity. Biosecurity SA aquatic pests manager, Vic Neverauskas, said it was logical to assume a higher risk of similar events because seas were following a warming trend due to climate change. Fish that littered beaches on both sides of the Spencer Gulf and Gulf of St Vincent from 6 March to 26 April were linked to warm waters prolonging the life of naturally occurring algae ...

"University of Adelaide veterinary diagnostic laboratory operational manager Dr Stephen Pyecroft said the dolphins were likely to have been killed by the morbillivirus, a virus transmitted by close contact between dolphins. ... 'I just think that the water temperatures and the oceanographic conditions that have been shown in the last three to four months is pretty telling,” Pyecroft said. 'And if the prediction is that changing climate patterns are going to leave warm waters and algae blooms sitting there for months, then it’s going to affect the natural aquatic environment that these animals live in'.”

In Africa, "Lloyd Phiri, a fisherman from Senga Bay on Lake Malawi's shores in Malawi's central region, knows that the lake's water levels are dropping. He can see it in his catch, which has shrunk by more than 80%. Years ago, it was the norm to catch about 5,000 fish a day, Phiri says. But now, if he is lucky, he brings in one-fifth of that. ... 'My fish catch has gone down in recent years and this has affected my earnings. I now have problems paying school fees for my children.'

"The rapid drop in Lake Malawi's water levels, driven by population growth, climate change and deforestation, is threatening its floral and fauna species with extinction, says Malawi's ministry of environment and climate change management. And included among the wildlife threatened are the fish that Phiri depends on for a livelihood.

"'It's a big deal because studies are showing that the water levels in the lake will keep on dropping in coming years because there are signs that show [there will be] less rainfall and increased evaporation' says [Yanira Mtupanyama, principal secretary in the ministry]. Of even greater concern are Malawian government reports that the water mass may hold oil and gas reserves. Environmentalist Raphael Mwenenguwe fears that, if oil and gas mining starts on the lake, it could lead to further biodiversity losses."

More interwoven strands of the web.

On planet Earth: "A study of 632 published experiments of the world’s oceans, from tropical to arctic waters, spanning coral reefs and the open seas, found that climate change is whittling away the diversity and abundance of marine species. The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , found there was 'limited scope' for

animals to deal with warming waters and acidification, with very few species escaping the negative impact of increasing carbon dioxide dissolution in the oceans.

“''As there is less prey available, that means fewer opportunities for carnivores. There’s a cascading effect up the food chain' [said associate professor Ivan Nagelkerken of 

Adelaide University, the lead research group.] 'Overall, we found there’s a decrease in species diversity and abundance irrespective of what ecosystem we are looking at. These are broad scale impacts, made worse when you combine the effect of warming with acidification .... and also added stressors such as overfishing and direct pollution. These added pressures are taking away the opportunity for species to adapt to climate change.”

"Since 2014, a massive underwater heatwave, driven by climate change, has caused corals to lose their brilliance and die in every ocean. By the end of this year 38% of the world’s reefs will have been affected. About 5% will have died.

"Research released in the US on Monday found that Antarctic ice is melting so fast that the whole continent could be at risk by 2100, with severe consequences for coastal communities....

"Problems in the ocean’s food chains will be a direct concern for hundreds of millions of people who rely upon seafood for sustenance, medicines and income. ... 'These effects are happening now and will only be exacerbated in the next 50 to 100 years,' Nagelkerken said."

This has been a review of one chapter of the book titled "The Planet Now and You!"

William Smithers
Santa Barbara

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