Eyewitnesses of ocean change

Case study

Atlantic cod and haddock stocks are moving northeast, while mackerels are immigrating from the south. Spawning seasons and spawning grounds are shifting. The population size and distribution range of seabirds and marine mammals are changing. Fishers and members of the ocean-related tourism sector in Northern Norway are already noticing these effects of climate change that are transforming their home region. The area belongs to the Barents Sea, a part of the Arctic Ocean that has, up to now, been characterized by a wealth of fish resources and its high-latitude climate. But water temperatures in the Barents Sea are rising substantially, while a comparably high rate of ocean acidification is projected over the course of this century.

For this reason, BIOACID scientists chose the Barents Sea region as their study area for the impacts of global change on human communities that depend on the ocean and their ability to adapt. Coastal small-scale fishers, fisheries associations, coastal tourism entrepreneurs, environmental and indigenous organisations, as well as governmental departments shared their observations, interests and concerns with researchers in interviews and workshops.

Based on this first-hand knowledge, an integrative model was developed and then assessed together with the stakeholders. In this way, it became clear how ocean acidification and warming might alter the marine ecosystem in the Barents Sea, in which ways the changes might affect people and businesses and how they could adapt to the changes.

If fish stocks move from coastal areas to the open sea, traditional small-scale fishers are not able to follow them with their boats. This possibly forces them to make large investments to adapt their gear or to give up their jobs. Sports fishing and whale watching may become too difficult because of the longer distances incurred – or tour operators might have to chose to focus on other aspects of nature or active tourism. On the other hand, larger fishing companies trust the Norwegian fishing quota management to secure their future incomes, and sustainable aquaculture could increasingly become an alternative for food provision.

The Barents Sea study provides an example of the unex­pected and often indirect impacts of ecological shifts on different groups in society which may occur under ocean acidification and warming. An improved assessment of ecological interactions as well as increased consideration of user groups with fewer adaptation options would ensure a fairer and more sustainable governance of marine resources and areas.

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