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Climate change

No event better foreshadows the potential impact of climate change on the global seafood supply than the news in early 2009 that the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC), the U.S. government body responsible for managing fisheries in the U.S. 200-mile exclusive economic zone, voted to ban all commercial fishing in waters north of the Bering Strait until a management plan for the area is completed.

The NPFMC’s action follows a nearly two-year study of the area, and closes roughly 150,000 square nautical miles to commercial fishing to provide an opportunity to assess the impacts of climate change on Arctic ecosystems before any commercial fishing is allowed.

“Climate change is having a significant effect on the Arctic, opening previously ice-covered waters and drawing cold water species further north,” said Dave Benton, executive director of the Marine Conservation Alliance (MCA).

“The council’s action to close these waters as a precautionary measure gives us the opportunity to conduct the scientific review necessary to develop a plan for how sustainable fisheries might be conducted in the Arctic in the future.”

The MCA is an association of fishermen, processors and communities involved in the groundfish and crab fisheries off Alaska, and represents approximately 75 percent of the participants in Alaska’s shellfish and groundfish fisheries.

World Wildlife Fund officials applauded the decision, saying recent melting of the Arctic sea ice on a scale unprecedented in modern times has opened up previously inaccessible waters to commercial fishing, oil and gas development and shipping, posing new challenges for resource managers.

“This is a courageous and ethical move by Alaska’s fishermen,” said Bill Fox, vice president of fisheries for World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“We do not know enough about the ecology of these areas to allow them to be fished commercially,” said Fox. ”Until we have that information in hand, we should not tamper with these vulnerable ecosystems, particularly at a time when climate change is already threatening them.”

Not only do we not know enough about how climate change is impacting seafood resources in the remote Arctic regions, we aren’t even sure how changes in the Earth’s climate are impacting fisheries closer to our shores that are visible and measurable by scientists and industry alike.

This report will examine the latest science related to climate change and its impact on global fish and shellfish resources and the seafood industry these species support.

While there are some early signs of how climate change might affect the ocean’s marine resources, much of today’s research is still speculative. Nevertheless, it does offer evidence of how seafood abundance could change in the coming decades.

Beyond changes happening in the ocean, companies around the world are facing regulatory, marketing and other business challenges related to addressing climate change.

A new focus on a company’s carbon footprint is forcing businesses to rethink supply chain and marketing strategies.

Seafood buyers and suppliers interested in planning longer-term outlooks for their businesses must now factor climate change into their business models, and this report suggests some likely scenarios for future seafood sourcing.