Scientists help tropical fisheries take the heat



The impact of climate change on fisheries in tropical Australia will be investigated in a new three-year research project headquartered at James Cook University’s Fishing and Fisheries Research Centre.

Climate change is predicted to alter environmental patterns in northern Australia, and the project aims to understand how these changes will affect not only the fish, but also the fishers that catch them.

Project leader Mr David Welch said that the main aim of the project was to ensure the fishing industry and associated stakeholders were as well informed and prepared as possible for the potential changes to fish populations that may result from a changing climate.

“The results of the research will enable the fishing industry to position their businesses to be able to survive likely changes in fisheries productivity,” Mr Welch said. “Some changes may be positive, but others will be negative.

“For example, a gradual shift in a fish’s distribution may be detrimental to fishers in one region, however it may open up opportunities for other fishers in another region. It is important for industry to be ready for these types of changes,” he said.

The project team includes scientists, fishers and managers. Scientists on the project will draw on previous research, and examine the vast collections of data on different fish and other marine species taken in Australia’s northern fisheries, to assess how sensitive they are to changes in the environment.

“We know that productivity of some species is linked to rainfall patterns, and we know in others the timing of spawning is linked to seawater temperature,” Mr Welch said.

“We need to examine these types of information across a broad range of important fishery species in the tropics, such as barramundi and coral trout, to better understand what the future holds for them.”

Fisheries managers are an integral part of the project as they need to be ready to assist fishers to adapt to changing conditions, as well as ensure continued sustainable use of northern Australia’s marine resources.

Queensland fisheries manager Mr Mark Lightowler said that climate change would present opportunities as well as challenges.

“We want to help industry in meeting these,” he said. “Importantly, we need to continue to manage fisheries to ensure sustainability.

“This project will help ensure we are armed with the appropriate knowledge to better adapt to potential changes to fisheries”.

The research will be conducted over the next three years and is part of a national climate change research program into fisheries and is supported by funding from the Fisheries Research & Development Corporation and Department of Climate Change & Energy Efficiency on behalf of the Australian Government.

The project is a multi-agency collaboration between the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, the Northern Territory Department of Resources, the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, Infofish Australia, Maynard Marine, C2O (Coasts, Climate, Oceans), the Queensland Seafood Industry Association, and James Cook University.