Warming waters, increased carbon dioxide levels, changing ocean currents and extreme weather events are altering Australia’s marine environment. As the regulator of Australia’s Commonwealth fisheries, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) is interested in how these climate-driven changes will impact future fish stocks.
AFMA is involved in two research projects to answer the following questions:
1. How will climate change impact Australian fish stocks over the coming decades?
2. Can our current fisheries regulatory system adapt to the projected impacts of climate change?
Answering these questions is important for AFMA, the commercial fishing industry, recreational and indigenous fishers, and all those who enjoy eating fresh Australian seafood.
In a project led by CSIRO, 16 scientists have used large amounts of fisheries data to predict how fish species in our waters will respond to climate change over the coming decades. They found that pelagic fish, those that live in the open ocean, were generally least affected by climate change, while invertebrates, like rock lobsters, scallops and prawns, were more affected.
As sea surface temperatures continue to rise, the distribution of many species is expected to shift. For example, tropical rock lobsters, prawns and bigeye tuna are predicted to move southward, while some squid species are expected to be more abundant, especially in south-eastern and north-eastern Australian waters. For some southern species, such as rock lobsters, they may become more limited in distribution as these lovers of colder water find suitable habitat in short supply.
The project also revealed that some species are set to benefit from climate change. In south-east Australia, fishers are expected to see more jack mackerel and redbait in the next few decades. The number of tuna and mackerel is also projected to increase in waters off the coast of Western Australia.
Consumers may need to adapt to climate change too, by eating seafood species that become more abundant and reducing their intake of species that are less so.
The Decadal scale projection of changes in Australian fisheries stocks under climate change project was funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), with the report published in March 2018.
Learning from the outcomes of the first project, AFMA has started assessing how fisheries management can adapt to ensure our fisheries remain sustainable as fish distributions, abundances and other behaviours change.
In collaboration with CSIRO and risk experts, AFMA is assessing the risk of climate change to its current fisheries management practices. The new risk assessment method is being developed to evaluate the likely impacts of climate change on fisheries stocks and the fishing industry. These assessments will be discussed at stakeholder workshops, where industry members, scientists, fisheries managers, international participants and members of environmental groups can provide input.
These two projects are a significant step towards climate change resilient fisheries management and they highlight the commitment of AFMA and Australia’s Commonwealth fishing industry to a sustainable and economically viable industry.