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Point of View - Man-made climate change: The ultimate threat to sustainable fisheries

David Glaubke is director of sustainability initiatives for Sea Port Products Corp. in Kirkland, Wash. Glaubke’s career spans over 30 years participating in the distribution, production, marketing and aquaculture sectors of the seafood industry.
By David Glaubke
May 01, 2014

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) comprised of Nobel Prize-winning scientists recently reported that ocean warming and acidification due to climate change have the potential to devastate the current productive capacities of our oceans. Never before has the U.N. put out such a strongly worded warning concerning such risks. 

Climate change caused by CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels is the ultimate threat to the long-term sustainability of our fisheries. In light of this IPCC report, it is finally time for the worldwide seafood industry, governments, NGOs and all fossil fuel energy companies to unequivocally acknowledge that this threat is real. All the current efforts to manage fisheries for sustainability will be for naught and seem very narrow-minded if we cannot uniformly acknowledge this fact. 

As part of this acknowledgement process, we should not ignore the yearly worldwide occurrences of more than 400 marine dead zones caused by agricultural runoffs containing synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, which are dependent upon fossil fuels for their production. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and the burning of fossil fuels have successfully worked together to enable our world population to rapidly expand. In short, our world population sprung forth from our ability to utilize fossil fuels and to create synthetic nitrogen for the fertilization of our crops.

No other two technological advancements in the course of human history have been more fundamental in making it possible for our world population to have exploded from less than 2 billion in 1930 to more than 7 billion in 2014! Today more than 50 percent of the nitrogen in the muscle tissues of every single person on Earth comes from synthetically produced nitrogen. This fact is anything but trivial: Without synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, half of everyone’s family would not be living today. Unfortunately, these two monumental technological achievements have also produced the negative unintended consequences that threaten our oceans and fisheries.   

Some examples of these unintended negative consequences: Ocean acidification has impeded the proper development of commercial shellfish larvae and certain calciferous plankton species throughout the world; more than 400 marine dead zones around the globe are killing massive quantities of ocean life every year; and rising ocean temperatures are causing certain fisheries to shift to cooler waters or to simply disappear as exemplified by some of our North Atlantic cod stocks.

Examples of highly likely future negative consequences IPCC highlighted: Increased ocean acidification will disrupt the entire marine food chain; higher sea levels and temperatures will cause the redistribution of fisheries and plankton toward the poles and drive important tropical fisheries to extinction.

So, what should we do? Now is the time for the entire seafood industry, NGOs, the oil, gas and coal industries and all of the governments of the world to immediately and unequivocally acknowledge that the risks associated with man-made climate change are real. Only after this unifying acknowledgement will humanity be able to work as one to create the needed solutions to this ultimate and overriding threat to the sustainability of our current and future fisheries.

David Glaubke is director of sustainability initiatives for Sea Port Products Corp. in Kirkland, Wash. Glaubke’s career spans over 30 years participating in the distribution, production, marketing and aquaculture sectors of the seafood industry.  

 

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