If ocean temperatures keep steadily rising as they have been for some time due to climate change, then the U.S. fishing industry will have a big problem on its hands.
This is according to experts who recently testified before a U.S. Senate committee on the issue of how climate change affects businesses that depend on the ocean and the creatures in it to sustain their livelihoods.
During a 90-minute session titled “Warming Seas, Cooling Economy: How the Climate Crisis Threatens Ocean Industries” held Jan. 24 by the Senate Budget Committee, five people – a fishing guide, an economist, and three professors – testified on the effects that climate change have and could have.
“The risks of a changing climate are, by far, the most limiting factor of my potential growth and success as an entrepreneur,” said fishing guide Kyle Schaefer, who owns a fishing lodge in the Bahamas. “Climate change has different, specific impacts in every place I fish, and it’s a serious threat to fish and fishing everywhere.”
During his testimony, Schaefer cited a NASA report stating that as the Earth continues to warm due to human-caused increases in greenhouse gases, we can expect more frequent and severe extreme weather events, including hurricanes, heavy rains and marine heatwaves.
“The climate trends pose a significant increase in risk and weaken my confidence in a prosperous future for my fishing businesses,” he said.
Rashid Sumaila, a professor with Institute For The Oceans And Fisheries at the University Of British Columbia testified that climate change is impacting the biophysics of the ocean in four significant ways: rising sea surface temperature, oceans becoming more acidic, decreasing oxygen content and sea level rise.
“A deadly quartet,” he remarked. “Anything that changes the physics, chemistry and biophysics of the ocean will affect life in the ocean and consequently would affect fisheries and the economic benefits we derive from them.”
Among those economic benefits, he said, are about $240 billion in worldwide revenue for fishers each year, which translates into an economy-wide impact of about $600 billion annually. Also, the ocean provides job security, he remarked, generating income for an estimated 260 million people globally, not including recreational fisheries.
In 2020 alone, U.S. commercial and recreational saltwater fishing alone generated $253 billion in sales impacts, according to Sumaila, as well as contributing $117 billion to U.S. gross domestic product and supporting 1.7 million jobs in the U.S. marine fishing sector.
Despite the warnings from some who testified on the issue, Senate Republicans and Democrats haven’t quite been able to get on the same page.
The committee’s chair, Sheldon Whitehouse (D – RI) and ranking member, Chuck Grassley (R – IA) each issued statements regarding the hearing, but the tones were quite different.
In his, Whitehouse said that in 2021, commercial and recreational fishing contributed almost $140 billion to the U.S. economy, but acknowledged that fisheries are being harmed by warming ocean temperatures.
“Fish populations are relocating away to cooler waters, and economists estimate that direct economic losses could reach almost $1 billion annually by 2100,” he said. “Downstream effects — in fish processing and fisheries-based tourism — will make it worse. Impacts to Alaskan snow crab fisheries have caused one town’s revenues to drop over 90%.
Grassley did not attend the hearing due to being hospitalized for an infection at the time, but in his statement, he said that although climate change is an issue that’s worthy of attention, spending more money isn’t the answer – human ingenuity and adaptation are.
“Democrats cite extreme statistics, attempting to justify their climate alarm,” the statement read in part. “Republicans counter with sober facts showing that – while climate change poses real challenges – Armageddon isn’t around the corner.”
As of press time, no other hearings on the issue were scheduled, but we will monitor the issue and report on additional developments if and when they occur.
Meanwhile, video and testimonials from the Jan. 24 hearing can be accessed here: https://www.budget.senate.gov/hearings/warming-seas-cooling-economy-how-the-climate-crisis-threatens-ocean-industries.
Managing Editor Mark Nero can be reached by phone at (619) 313-4351 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.