In The Field

Arctic Frontiers: The fish are allright

The talk that in some sense stood out this morning was deliverd by Einar Svendsen, research director at the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research. While the general feeling here is one of grave concern, about the future of fragile Arctic environments, Svendsen told the surprised audience that climate change so far has been good to Norway, namely as far as fisheries are concerned. Economically important fish stocks off Norway (the world’s second-largest exporter of fish) and in the Barents Sea have fully recovered from a dramatic collapse in the late 1960s, to which overfishing and a temporary cooling of the North Atlantic seem to have equally contributed. Cod, haddock and saith populations are currently all in good shape, he reported.

But there is no guarantee that this will remain so, he cautioned. Given pronounced natural multi-decadal fluctuations, predicting the impact of rising ocean temperatures on marine ecosystems is extemely difficult. Fears are that if the North Atlantic continues to warm, cod and capelin, on which they feed, might migrate to colder waters off Siberia. And ocean acidification, an inevitable by-product of increased ocean CO2 uptake, might actually be an even bigger threat than is warming.

When asked about the environmental impact of the oil and gas recovery, Svendses said there is as yet no proof that pollution significantly affects the marine food chain or given fish stocks. But he strongly advised that no seismic surveys be conducted during the spawning season, and, in particular, that petroleum activities stay clear of the major spawning areas around the Lofoten Islands.

Quirin Schiermeier

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