Climate change – a real issue for the future of fish and fishing

12 May

Our fish face many threats, with which we are all too familiar.  Sewage and agricultural pollution, low flows in rivers, commercial overfishing at sea, and unsustainable predation are the rule rather than the exception.  This month I want to highlight the potential impact of a changing climate on fish stocks, and hence on the availability of quality fishing.  All serious scientists agree that global temperatures are rising as a result of human activity (burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests and releasing methane from agricultural sources).  Even if we take concerted global action, temperatures look set to rise by at least 2 degrees centigrade.  This may not sound much, but it will have disastrous consequences for our way of life, and on fish and fishing.

Many people think that climate change will only affect delicate fish like trout and grayling, but it will also have a huge impact on coarse fish as well.  One of the biggest threats to carp is Koi Herpes Virus (KHV) and the UK has seen numerous outbreaks of this vicious disease in recent years which have led to fisheries being closed and huge numbers of dead fish being dumped into the ground.  KHV thrives in warm water and all the recent outbreaks have coincided with years when summer temperatures have been slightly above average.

Rising temperatures will makes sea levels rise due to the expansion of sea water and melting icecaps, coupled with deeper low pressure systems which lead to storm surges.  In recent years, there have been more and more saltwater incursions to the Norfolk Broads, which have led to hundreds of thousands of coarse fish keeling over.  These incursions will become far more common in low lying areas and estuaries, which are often the most productive coarse fisheries.

The impact of climate on sea fishing is uncertain.  What is certain is that fishing will change as fish migrate to find optimum conditions.  It’s likely that warmer waters will cause more poisonous algal blooms, fuelled by fertilisers washed off farmers’ fields.  As crops fail, there will also be greater economic and political pressure to exploit fish stocks even more unsustainably to feed a growing global population.

River full of soil

The River Wye in spate, full of soil. This will only get worse with climate change.

Salmon are already nearing the edge of their natural range in the south of the UK.  Rising temperatures, coupled with low flows, could lead to their extinction in Southern England and Wales.  Sea survival of salmon has plummeted in the past 40 years from around 30% in the 1970s to a handful of percent today.  The truth is we don’t know why, but several years of skinny grilse indicated that the fish were going to sea and not finding the food they had come to expect over millennia due to a warming Arctic Ocean.  These fish have survived for millions of years through much bigger climate fluctuations than 2 degrees, but it’s the speed of modern climate change that makes it harder for them to adapt.  As they move further north, we lose a heritage and a tradition.

Once famous salmon rivers like the Tamar, Hampshire Avon, Test and Itchen could see their stocks wiped out within the lifetime of young anglers who are just learning the art of speycasting today.

All freshwater fish, and particularly sensitive species such as trout and grayling, will suffer from warmer water in the summer months.  As water temperature increases, oxygen levels plummet, and rivers and lakes are much more susceptible to pollution incidents.  Rainfall patterns are likely to change, with more intense rainstorms causing damaging floods which destroy fish eggs and wash fish downstream and onto floodplains where they die in the fields.  More sporadic rain will probably cause more droughts which concentrate pollutants, reduce dissolved oxygen, reduce the wetted area of riverbed which provides food, and give predators a field day.

To respond to this threat, the Angling Trust has joined the Climate Coalition, which is a group of diverse organisations calling for real action on climate change by governments the world over.  Of course, climate change should be of concern to us all because of the impact it will have on our lives in so many ways, but highlighting the potential damage to our precious fish and fishing is a way of demonstrating how far-reaching that impact will be.

Speak_Up_Logo

We are therefore encouraging anglers to back this campaign to call on governments to help make nature more resilient to climate change by reducing other pressures on natural systems, and to take action to reduce emissions which are causing the world to warm.

We can’t any longer pretend that Climate Change isn’t going to happen, or that we are powerless to prepare for it.  We must all take urgent action to stop it being worse than it needs to be.

If you want to get involved in the huge Speak Up rally in London on Wednesday 17th June then please click HERE for more details. Why not go along and speak up for the love of fish and fishing.

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5 Responses to “Climate change – a real issue for the future of fish and fishing”

  1. roger harrison May 17, 2015 at 1:05 pm #

    Complete rubbish of the worst propagandist scaremongering type. Why must I as an Angling Trust supporter see my “support” given to a cause I profoundly disapprove of, and disagree with? What recourse do I have but to cancel my subscription?

  2. marklloydat May 18, 2015 at 10:29 am #

    Roger, the expenditure on this campaign is about 0.00375% of our overall expenditure. If you disapprove of it, which you clearly do, then please consider the things we do with the other 99.99625% of our expenditure to protect fish and fishing before cancelling your subscription. Do you believe that climate change isn’t happening, or that humans are not responsible for it, or that it won’t have an impact on fish?
    All best wishes
    mark

    • roger June 2, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

      All three. Global warning occurs with cycles of sun activity and planet distance. There is no evidence it is happening now. There is no evidence that burning carbon has or will impact global temperature. Warmer weather increases rainfall, and hence available freshwater; it also stimulates living growth. Cooling, which will happen, will reduce food stocks, water resources and population. East coast sea levels rise because England is rocking sideways, and currently on a downward tilt, as a result of the weight of ice in the northwest and Wales in the last ice age. It is not just the money AT wastes, it is the misuse of its support to imply anglers as a whole endorse the unscientific rubbish and scaremongering.

      • mike hamblett June 6, 2015 at 10:09 am #

        Back to sleep then Roger. You’re in a very small minority who won’t or can’t understand the science and the actual physical evidence of what’s happening in a very short time span. Don’t try and deter those who care about the future of the natural world, and their children’s hopes.

  3. marklloydat June 2, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

    Roger, I suggest you have a look at http://www.ipcc.ch/ for evidence that it is happening now and that it is a result of burning fossil fuels, amongst other human activities. Peer reviewed scientific evidence at that. You are right that sea level rise will be worse in southern and eastern england as a result of correction after the last ice age. Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of our coastal population lives.
    All best wishes,
    Mark

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