Fisheries face climate threat

NEW research has found that projected climate change is likely to cause the core area of skipjack tuna abundance in the Pacific Ocean to move progressively eastward, while coral reef fisheries are expected to decrease by 20% by 2050.

Johanna Johnson doing research at Masig Island in the Torres Strait.
Johanna Johnson doing research at Masig Island in the Torres Strait. Contributed

The multi-disciplinary work, led by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, brought together climate scientists, oceanographers, ecologists and economists from the Pacific, Australia and France, including a Southern Cross University researcher.

There are likely to be both positive and negative outcomes

- SCU's Johanna Johnson

One of the co-authors of the paper, Mixed responses of tropical Pacific fisheries and aquaculture to climate change, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, is Johanna Johnson, an adjunct fellow at SCU's National Marine Science Centre based in Coffs Harbour, part of the School of Environment, Science and Engineering.

Ms Johnson said fisheries and aquaculture were vital to the people of the tropical Pacific.

"Nowhere else do so many countries depend so heavily on fish and shellfish for food security, livelihoods, econo- mic development and gov- ernment revenue," Ms Johnson said. "Maintaining these benefits in the face of rapid population growth and climate change is a major challenge."

The researchers investigated how changes to the atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean were likely to affect the food webs, habitats and stocks underpinning fisheries and aquaculture, and found that coral reefs, for example, are expected to be degraded by more frequent bleaching and ocean acidification, putting some species of fish, shellfish and invertebrates under threat.

"There are likely to be both positive and negative outcomes," Ms Johnson said.

"Tuna catches are expected to be higher in the eastern part of the region by 2035 but lower in the west after 2050, while harvests from coastal fisheries and mariculture (cultivation of marine organisms in marine habitats, usually for commercial purposes) are projected to decrease across the region.

"Yields from freshwater fisheries and pond aquaculture are likely to be enhanced."

The paper outlines how Pacific nations can address the social and economic implications, particularly for food security, as coral reefs, coastal fisheries and mariculture decline in the tropical Pacific.

"Coastal communities can adapt to the projected declines in coral reef fish production by diversifying fisheries and aquaculture resources," Ms Johnson said.

"Transferring fishing effort from coral reef fish to tuna around inshore fish aggregating devices (FADs) will be one strategy."

National Marine Science Centre

The National Marine Science Centre, based at Coffs Harbour adjacent to the Solitary Islands Marine Park, provides practical opportunities in marine science for both students and researchers.

All third-year Bachelor of Marine Science and Management students attend the centre for specialised marine units that are taught intensively in three-week blocks.

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