Fishermen face shutdowns as warming hurts species

  • FILE - Clam digger Scott Lavers paddles his canoe on his way to work on a mudflat exposed by the receding tide, in this Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, file photo in Freeport, Maine. Warming waters and invasive species are threatening a way of life for many in the country's seafood industry. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty

  • FILE - In this Sept. 2, 2016, file photo, a basket of clams is harvested at Cape Porpoise in Kennebunkport, Maine. The industry is threatened by warming waters and the growing presence of invasive green crabs, which eat clams. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File) Robert F. Bukaty

  • FILE- Gulls follow a shrimp fishing boat as crewmen haul in their catch in the Gulf of Maine in this Jan. 6, 2012 file photo. Several once-profitable fish species on both coasts of the U.S. are the subject of quota cuts, seasonal closures and other restrictions as populations have fallen as waters have warmed. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File) Robert F. Bukaty

  • FILE - James Rich maneuvers a bulging net full of northern shrimp caught in the Gulf of Maine, in this Jan. 6, 2012 photo. The shrimp population has not rebounded after nearly a decade of no commercial fishing, prompting regulators to consider a permanent moratorium. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File) Robert F. Bukaty

  • FILE - Northern shrimp lay on snow aboard a trawler in the Gulf of Maine, in this Jan. 6, 2012 file photo. New predators entering the warming waters of the Gulf of Maine are among the latest threats to this once abundant species. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File) Robert F. Bukaty

  • FILE - David Goethel flips a cod while sorting ground fish caught off the coast of New Hampshire, on April 23, 2016. The fishing industry will likely face additional cutbacks and closures in the future as climate change intensifies. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File) Robert F. Bukaty

  • FILE - An Atlantic cod swims in an aquarium the Musee du Fjord in Saguenay, Quebec, in this July 2, 2022, file photo. Atlantic cod populations have become so depleted that its fishery has been essentially shuttered in New England. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, files) Robert F. Bukaty

  • FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2005 file photo, Ralph Strickland guides a crab pot full of red king crabs onto the deck of fishing vessel off of Juneau, Alaska. Fishing regulators and the seafood industry are coming to grips with the possibility that some species that have declined in the face of climate change might not come back. (AP Photo/Klas Stolpe, File) Klas Stolpe

  • FILE - A Chinook Salmon passes the viewing window in the visitor center at Bonneville Dam near Cascade Locks, Ore., in this Sept. 24, 2010, file photo. Chinook salmon are one of many important seafood species that have declined in the face of climate change and might not come back. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, file) Rick Bowmer

Associated Press
Published: 10/27/2022 11:26:40 PM
Modified: 10/27/2022 11:26:26 PM

PORTLAND, Maine — Fishing regulators and the seafood industry are grappling with the possibility that some once-profitable species that have declined with climate change might not come back.

Several marketable species harvested by U.S. fishermen are the subject of quota cuts, seasonal closures and other restrictions as populations have fallen and waters have warmed. In some instances, such as the groundfishing industry for species like flounder in the Northeast, the changing environment has made it harder for fish to recover from years of overfishing that already taxed the population.

Officials in Alaska have canceled the fall Bristol Bay red king crab harvest and winter snow crab harvest, dealing a blow to the Bering Sea crab industry that is sometimes worth more than $200 million a year, as populations have declined in the face of warming waters. The Atlantic cod fishery, once the lifeblood industry of New England, is now essentially shuttered. But even with depleted populations imperiled by climate change, it’s rare for regulators to completely shut down a fishery, as they’re considering doing for New England shrimp.

The Northern shrimp, once a seafood delicacy, has been subject to a fishing moratorium since 2014. Scientists believe warming waters are wiping out their populations and they won’t be coming back. So the regulatory Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is now considering making that moratorium permanent, essentially ending the centuries-old harvest of the shrimp.

It’s a stark siren for several species caught by U.S. fishermen that regulators say are on the brink. Others include softshell clams, winter flounder, Alaskan snow crabs and Chinook salmon.

Exactly how many fisheries are threatened principally by warming waters is difficult to say, but additional cutbacks and closures are likely in the future as climate change intensifies, said Malin Pinsky, director of the graduate program in ecology and evolution at Rutgers University.

“This pattern of climate change and how it ripples throughout communities and coastal economies is something we need to get used to,” Pinsky said. “Many years are pushing us outside of what we have experienced historically, and we are going to continue to observe these further novel conditions as years go by.”

While it’s unclear whether climate change has ever been the dominant factor in permanently shutting down a U.S. fishery, global warming is a key reason several once-robust fisheries are in increasingly poor shape and subject to more aggressive regulation in recent years. Warming temperatures introduce new predators, cause species to shift their center of population northward, or make it harder for them to grow to maturity, scientists said.

In the case of the Northern shrimp, scientists and regulators said at a meeting in August that the population has not rebounded after nearly a decade of no commercial fishing. Regulators will revisit the possibility of a permanent moratorium this winter, said Dustin Colson Leaning, a fishery management plan coordinator with the Atlantic States commission. Another approach could be for the commission to relinquish control of the fishery, he said.

The shrimp prefer cold temperatures, yet the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than most of the world’s oceans. Scientists say warming waters have also moved new predators into the gulf.

But in Maine, where the cold-water shrimp fishery is based, fishermen have tried to make the case that abundance of the shrimp is cyclical and any move to shutter the fishery for good is premature.


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