CONSERVATIVE MEP FOR SCOTLAND

Cod and Climate Change

Last week the EU set the fish quotas for the coming year and I secured passage of a climate change law through the European Parliament’s Environment Committee which will reduce carbon dioxide emissions (CO2). Two, seemingly unconnected, events. Or were they?

19.12.2016.

Last week the EU set the fish quotas for the coming year and I secured passage of a climate change law through the European Parliament’s Environment Committee which will reduce carbon dioxide emissions (CO2). Two, seemingly unconnected, events. Or were they?

The self-same week, the European Commission published a report entitled, ‘Ocean acidification effects on Atlantic cod larval survival and recruitment to the fished population,’ which demonstrated that increased CO2 emissions dissolved in sea water could depress the survival rate of juvenile codfish by up to 25%.

Acidification of sea water in one of the lesser cited consequences of climate change. More attention is commonly given to global warming, and with it the warming of the seas. is one consequence of increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The planet is on course to warm by 3oC over the next century, unless we do something about it. Even a modest rise in sea temperature can impact upon the survivability of fish eggs and larvae, juveniles and their food sources, all of which can have profound affects on the geographical range and migration of species.

The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) seem in no doubt that rising sea temperatures will see cod swimming north to colder waters. We have already witnessed the debacle that resulted from the temperature-driven change in the migration pattern of mackerel.  The unexpected appearance of an abundance of mackerel in the territorial waters of Iceland and the Faroes resulted in a titanic fishery by those nations which almost undermined the sustainability of the species.

British fishermen are well aware of the changes in the waters they fish. As cod seeks colder waters and mackerel migration patterns change, so species which prefer warmer waters are found in greater abundance in the waters around the British Isles. Squid is now caught in commercial quantities. So are anchovies, red mullet and sea bass. Danish and Irish trawlers even report regular hauls of the boarfish - which look for all the world like giant goldfish - a feat unheard of a decade ago.

Of course, it is not just in latitude that climate change is felt. Increasing sea temperature has driven white fish such as cod and haddock to greater depths. Scientific studies have shown that over the last decade some species are now found up to 5.5m deeper than before, all of which can impact on spawning and juvenile survivability.

There will be those who rejoice in the arrival of new, valuable species such as tuna and seabass in greater numbers, all enjoying the warming waters around the UK. New fisheries will of course develop. Whether we will ever enjoy a squid supper or smoked mullet remains to be seen. However, there is much to lose. Having fought so hard and sacrificed to bring the cod back to health - the quota rose 20% last week - it would be dispiriting to find the hard-fought gains lost to climate change. The white fish fishery is still worth £158m to Scotland. And that is to say nothing of the challenges that changing weather could bring to the fishing industry.

The full impact of climate change is hard to predict, but there is little doubt that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will do no good. The fishing industry is in the front line. My work on carbon markets and CO2 reduction may yet prove to be as necessary as the fundamental reform of fisheries management.