The effects of climate change are going to have a devastating effect on coastal British Columbia First Nations within the next few decades, according to a new scientific report.
“First Nations fisheries could decline by nearly 50 percent by 2050, and coastal First Nations communities could suffer economic losses between $6.7 and $12 million,” lead researcher Laura Weatherdon told Indian Country Today Media Network.
The study was conducted by an international research team led by University of British Columbia scientists at the Institute for Oceans and Fisheries. The researchers modeled how climate change is likely to affect 98 fish and shellfish species up to the year 2050. Forecasted changes in ocean temperature upwards of one degree Celsius were examined, along with salinity and oxygen levels, and even the best-case scenario results proved frightening.
As the North Pacific warms, Weatherdon said, fish stocks will begin moving north at a rate of six to 11 miles per decade. First Nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island say they’re already seeing the effects of climate change on the herring and salmon stocks they depend upon. A drought this past summer caused river levels to drop and water temperatures to reach lethal levels for the one million sockeye salmon trying to swim up the Somass River near Port Alberni.
“We were really worried about the sockeye this year,” said Andy Olson, Fisheries Manager for the Tseshaht First Nation.
The commercially valuable sockeye were schooled up deep in the ocean, where Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations gillnetters found them more difficult to catch than in the river. Large commercial seiners, recreational anglers and marine mammals didn’t share the same problem, and enjoyed a banner year as a result.
“We’re at the very southern range for sockeye, so any warming trends are going to hit us first,” said Olson.
When it does happen it will mean the loss of millions of dollars to the local economy, said Olson, as well as the untold effect on the diets and cultures of First Nations people.
“Climate change is likely to lead to a decline in herring in salmon, which are among the most important species commercially, culturally, and nutritionally for First Nations,” said Weatherdon, who is now a researcher at the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Weatherdon and her colleagues predict that salmon stocks could decline by more than 30 percent and that already-depleted herring stocks could dwindle by almost half, causing a 90 percent reduction in coast-wide revenue from the fisheries.
First Nation leaders are actively discussing the issue and are adjusting fishing plans to reduce impacts on fish and shellfish species in a changing climate, Olson said. While Weatherdon concurred that proactive planning for resource management is required to deal with the effects of climate change, she noted that global efforts are needed to reduce carbon emissions in order to mitigate impacts on coastal communities.
“The shifts in the distributions of these stocks are quite important because First Nations are generally confined to their traditional territories when fishing for food, social and ceremonial purposes,” she said in a statement. “This could have large implications for communities who have been harvesting these fish and shellfish for millennia.”