Original publication: June 2015
Authors: Blomeyer & Sanz S.L.: Roland BLOMEYER, Kim STOBBERUP
Centre of Marine Sciences, University of Algarve: Karim ERZINI
The Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia: Vicky LAM, Daniel PAULY
Innovative Fisheries Management, IFM – Aalborg University: Jesper RAAKJAER
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2HHRjbI
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Fisheries Management and the Arctic in the Context of Climate Change

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Climate change is of increasing concern, especially in the Arctic. The Arctic Ocean and Adjacent Seas (AOAS) cover a vast area, with a variety of different habitats and ecosystems, differing in many ways, including in terms of effects of climate change. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the most comprehensive analysis of global climate change to date (Bindoff et al., 2013; Collins et al., 2013; Flato et al., 2013; Kirtman et al., 2013) along with other comprehensive assessments such as those by the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee (ACIA, 2004, 2005) have concluded that warming is undoubtedly taking place and that the Arctic region is and will continue to be one of the most affected regions of the globe. Increasing temperature, decreasing summer ice cover and ocean acidification are expected to significantly affect primary production, trophic structure, community composition, biodiversity and fisheries. Modelling of climate change effects in the Arctic indicates continued decrease of ice cover in the long term, with some scenarios forecasting an icefree Arctic in the summer by the middle of this century. New navigation routes will open and new fishing grounds will become available. Little is known of the fragile Arctic marine ecosystem and how it will be affected by the combined effects of climate change and the expansion of fisheries to previously untouched areas. It is also not clear if present governance regimes and bodies are adequate for dealing with the potential development of new fisheries.


Against this background, the European Parliament (EP) has commissioned this study on ‘Fisheries management and the Arctic in the context of climate change’, which was awarded to Blomeyer & Sanz.

  • The aim of the present study is to provide a comprehensive review and analysis of the implications of climate change for the Arctic ecosystem and the potential development of new fisheries, and make recommendations that can help prevent threats to the fragile Arctic ecosystem. To this end, the authors of this study have reviewed climate related changes in the Arctic over the past decades as well as the latest climate change scenarios for the 21st century;
  • reviewed the fish and fisheries of the AOAS, with emphasis on the resilience of commercial fish species and the implications of changes in distribution and the potential development of new fisheries;
  • analysed the trends, state of the stocks and the potential impacts of climate change on five of the most important commercial species: North East Atlantic (NE) cod, Greenland halibut, Capelin, Polar cod and Northern shrimp;
  • evaluated the role of the different management bodies and existing governance regimes;
  • made some forecasts with regard the future development of fisheries in the AOAS, based on the available literature;
  • identified gaps and made recommendations for research and Arctic policy.

This study is based on a wide range of sources of information, including primary literature, climate assessment reports, fisheries working group reports, the Fisheries and Agricultural Organization (FAO), national fisheries and oceanographic organizations, NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), online data bases such as FishBase (www.fishbase.org) and European Union documents.


The Arctic has only 10% (63) of the total (633) fish species of the AOAS, with only 3 considered commercial, compared to 58 commercial species for the whole AOAS (Meltofte, 2013). Arctic species have adapted to life in a highly variable environment, with most occupying a narrow temperature range, and except for Polar cod, they are largely bottom dwelling and do not undertake long distance migrations (Christiansen et al., 2014), making them particularly sensitive to climate change, invasive species and fishing. Based on FishBase (Froese and Pauly, 2000), the majority of the commercial species of the AOAS are classified as having low resilience (60%), 24% are medium resilience, with only 16% having high resilience.

Of the five commercial species selected for analysis, the biomass of the NE cod stock has increased dramatically in recent years, with evidence of expansion of range and new spawning grounds. In general, Greenland halibut stocks have been fairly stable over the past, while Northern shrimp stocks have declined in recent years, possibly due to a combination of predation, overfishing and less suitable environmental conditions. Polar cod is one of the most abundant marine species but has little commercial value. Capelin shows strong variability in abundance, with reduced catches in recent years.

In addition to short-term environmental variability, largely associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), abundances of AOAS resources are heavily influenced by species interactions and fishing, highlighting the importance of an ecosystem based approach to management (EBM). For example, the abundance of key forage species such as capelin strongly influences cod population dynamics.

There is a general consensus that climate change will result in increased productivity in the Arctic, and that with increasing temperature, there will be a “borealization” of the Arctic fish community, with potential for some species to expand their distribution to the Arctic. Among species with such a potential are Polar cod, capelin and Greenland halibut. However, other species such as cod are not expected to expand to the high Arctic. Factors governing the movement and potential of commercial species to expand to the Arctic include suitable thermal conditions and habitats, spawning grounds, migration corridors, the availability and  abundance of suitable prey and the match-mismatch between larvae and the production cycle of their zooplankton prey (Hollowed et al., 2013a). Due to the depth of the Arctic Ocean and the fact that most commercially important sub-Arctic species inhabit the continental shelf and shelf slopes that are mostly found within the exclusive economic zones or the Arctic states, it is unlikely that significant Arctic fisheries will develop.

Understanding of the effects of climate change in the Arctic is hampered by lack of data and gaps in knowledge. Many exploited species are considered “data-poor” and cannot be assessed using classical methods (e.g. catch-at-age approaches). Research is needed on stock structure of the main commercial species, trophic ecology and dynamics, vulnerability, ecosystem modelling, and on the combined effects of temperature, pH, and oxygen on growth, bioenergetics, survival, recruitment and abundance. Effective international collaboration in monitoring and research in the Arctic is essential for understanding the potential impacts of climate change on the Arctic and fisheries in the Arctic and is key to the implementation of an Ecosystem Approach (EA) to management. Uncertainty about the consequences of climate change must be addressed with improved monitoring, data collection and modelling at regional and local scales.

With shrinking ice cover and warming of the sea water, new fishing grounds will become available, mostly in international waters not currently covered by regional fisheries management organizations (RFMO) such as the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) or the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), raising questions of sustainability and governance. However, it should be noted that the Arctic coastal states have adopted a precautionary approach (PA) with regard to future development of fisheries in areas not within the jurisdiction of current RFMOs.

In general, most of the major sub-Arctic commercial stocks can be considered well managed, with Arctic coastal states responsible for stocks within their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and management of shared stocks in international waters by RFMOs. Although good examples of international cooperation can be found, such as the Joint Russian-Norwegian Fisheries Commission (JRNFC), there are some cases where disagreements have arisen over Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for shared stocks such as NAFO area Northern shrimp and Greenland halibut.

Governance must keep pace with new developments, especially changing migration patterns and displacement of stocks to new areas. A good example is the recent dispute over Atlantic mackerel catches and TACs arising from expansion of the distribution to Icelandic and other waters. Thus, there may be a need for an international body that coordinates the fisheries management in the Arctic, especially in the international waters beyond the control of the Arctic nations and jurisdiction of existing RFMOs, which will become available with shrinking of the ice cap.

In conclusion, the EU Arctic Policy should be further developed along these lines, with support and funding for greater collaboration, improved governance and more research. The implementation of eco-system based marine management (EBMM) at the regional level is hampered by the existing European governance system that cannot adequately deal with the complex challenges (Raakjaer et al., in press). The development of institutional structures that can coordinate fishing in the Arctic as well as cooperate with other sectors such as shipping and oil and gas production is recommended.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/563-380

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