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Fishing to take $10 billion hit due to climate change: UBC researchers

UBC scientists say by 2050, worldwide fishing revenues will drop by $10 billion a year because of declining fish populations

Spawning sockeye salmon are seen making their way up the Adams River in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park near Chase, B.C. Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Spawning sockeye salmon are seen making their way up the Adams River in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park near Chase, B.C. Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

By 2050, fisheries worldwide could be earning $10 billion less every year because of the impacts of climate change, according to a study by researchers at the University of British Columbia.

Fish caught in B.C. waters could decline by 13 per cent by 2050, said Vicky Lam, the lead author of the study. Overall, Canada will see a 6 per cent loss in fishery revenues, with B.C. being affected more than the East Coast or Arctic.

However, poorer countries that depend on fish for food as well as revenue will be hardest hit, Lam said.

This year several of B.C.’s salmon fisheries have been curtailed or cancelled because of extremely low returns. Sockeye returns to the Fraser River are now projected to be just 853,000 compared to an expected 2.2 million. That number is lower than the sockeye collapse of 2009, which prompted the creation of a federal commission to examine the problem.

A previous study Lam worked on for Vancity Credit Union found that the sockeye salmon catch in B.C. could decline as much as 21 per cent by 2050, while a third UBC study found the catch for First Nations fisheries could drop by 50 per cent by 2050, with herring and salmon being the most affected.

Warming water temperatures, changes in oxygen levels and increased ocean salinity and acidity will continue to reduce the number of fish, Lam said. Fish will also begin to migrate north to seek cooler water temperatures.

“Each of the species have a certain temperature preference, so if the temperature in the ocean is higher than their limit, they’ll try to find a more suitable environment,” Lam said.

Spawning sockeye salmon are seen making their way up the Adams River in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park near Chase, B.C. Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Spawning sockeye salmon are seen making their way up the Adams River in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park near Chase, B.C. Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014.

“Some of the higher value species (may) move to northern areas, and what is left behind are lower value fish.”

Relying on fish farming likely won’t help to boost revenues as the number of wild fish decline: the researchers forecast that an increase production in farmed fish, which sells at a lower price, will push down the price of wild fish, further eroding revenues.

“Our study highlight that it’s very important to plan for adaptation and mitigation measures,” Lam said. “But one of the major results of our study is that it’s very important to identify the trade-off between adaptation measures (like aquaculture) and economic impacts on the fishery revenues and climate change.”

More also needs to be done to protect and better manage current stocks, including reducing fishing, Lam said.

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