Wild salmon have a long historical association with humanity, dating as far back as the 13th Century, and have always been recognised as one of the most valuable fishery assets in the world. But with COP21 just around the corner, what can salmon tell us about the climatic challenges facing our world?
Today, rising temperatures are having an increasingly negative impact on the species with the direct biological impacts culminating in an “increased depletion of energy reserves, increased susceptibility and exposure to disease and disruptions to breeding efforts.” (Salmon and Climate Change, IUCN SSC Salmoid Specialist Group, (2009)). Numbers of wild salmon in the North Atlantic alone have declined from around 10 million to 3.6 million since the 1970s. As salmon are cold-water fish, higher temperatures impact on their marine and freshwater habitats and reduce the abundance of their prey species.
With the global population experiencing an inexorable climb from around 3 billion in the 1960s to over 7 billion today – the future of marine life ecosystems has never been more important to us. Scientists are now looking at innovative new ways to support fish stocks by making fish food from carbon dioxide. This will be taking place next to Technology Centre Mongstad (TCM) (client), the world’s largest test facility for carbon capture technologies – with the aim of producing Omega -3 fatty acids from algae to feed salmon and other species.
It is vital to react now by championing such CO2 capture initiatives and embracing the challenges that lie ahead. The ‘King of Fish’ has demonstrated steadfast resolve in embarking upon the most dangerous migration journey in its quest for survival which becomes ever more precarious as temperatures rise. COP21, later this year provides a powerful platform from which to set the agenda to combat climate change and prevent the further deterioration of the environment whilst seeking sustainable alternatives. The demise of wild salmon and other marine life should not be an option.
An ideal scenario at COP21 would be a constructive agreement and implementation between Heads of State whereby all countries can reduce their emissions enough to stay well within the 2-degree target, “but that requires transformation in various societies, which, of course is not a simple thing. And it’s not going to happen unless there is a political will.” (Scandinavian Corporations Explain Their Business Case for COP21, TriplePundit, (2015)). If it is achieved, though, it would send a strong global call to action and inspire greater confidence among low-carbon investors. If there is no agreement and the temperature continues to rise, countries could face catastrophic consequences – not least as food security becomes a serious challenge.
The human race depends upon salmon and other marine life for survival, and disruption to their ecosystems cannot be underestimated, bearing in mind that even if all greenhouse gas emissions ceased tomorrow there would still be a period of climate change. With continued pressure to find sustainable food sources these fish provide a vital supply of protein and in some communities, survival. As those in power look for long term solutions, tractable plans must be in place to take advantage of any current opportunities to reduce this issue – the kind of work Norway is doing at Mongstadis, therefore, remains critical as we head towards ‘action COP.’