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Executive Summary for November 17th

In our weekly roundup, we report on a big decision for a little fish in the Atlantic Ocean, why geoengineering could cause more hurricanes and what climate change means for the marine life of Pacific island nations.

Published on Nov. 17, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

A Setback for Key Atlantic Forage Fish

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted this week to hold off on a new management paradigm for the menhaden, a small fish that has attracted outsized attention for its crucial role in the marine food chain.

The failed measure was based on an emerging concept in fisheries management. Catch limits would be set to ensure enough menhaden in the sea to feed all of the predators that depend on it – such as humpback whales – rather than the more common method of treating the fish as a single species in isolation.

The vote delayed this “ecosystem-based approach” for at least a couple more years. It also raised the catch quota for menhaden by 8 percent.

Conservationists and recreational anglers, who had campaigned heavily leading up to the meeting, were disappointed. “Wildlife on the East Coast will suffer for these choices, as will people who enjoy fishing for striped bass or watching whales,” said Peter Banker, a United States ocean conservation director for Pew Charitable Trusts.

Fishing companies, particularly Omega Protein – the fish oil and feed company that catches the vast majority of menhaden – didn’t get everything they wanted either. Because menhaden aren’t “overfished” by the existing standard, the Menhaden Fisheries Coalition wanted more than an 8 percent quota increase. It said in a statement the commission “did not follow the best available science.”

Engineering the Planet’s Climate Could Roil the Ocean

With global greenhouse gas emissions projected to rise rather than decline in 2017, scientists and even the U.S. Congress are looking more closely at controversial “geoengineering” proposals that could offer a Plan B to avert dangerous climate change.

But radical solutions – like seeding the atmosphere with aerosols that filter the sun’s rays and cool the planet – could have unintended consequences, and a new study in Nature Communications details some important ones for the ocean.

The study, from researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, modeled what would happen if a nation decided to inject sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, simulating a volcanic eruption’s cooling effect on the globe. They found that a Southern Hemisphere injection could increase tropical Atlantic storms and hurricanes, while a Northern Hemisphere injection would likely mean fewer hurricanes and more droughts in Africa.

The varying regional effects were a key finding. “This work re-emphasizes the perils of unilateral geoengineering, which might prove attractive to individual actors due to a greater controllability of local climate responses, but with inherent additional risk elsewhere,” it concluded.

Island Nations Could Lose Most Marine Species

As sea levels rise, small island nations are already bearing the brunt of climate change on land. Now a recent study shows just how badly warming global temperatures could damage their ocean resources as well.

The study, published in Marine Policy from researchers with the Nippon Foundation-Nereus Program, found that an unchecked warming scenario could cause Pacific island nations to lose 50 percent to 80 percent of their local marine species by the end of the century. The tropical Pacific region is already the warmest area of the global ocean – making its ocean life particularly vulnerable to threats associated with climate change.

The plight of Pacific island nations has been spotlighted this month by Fiji as it leads global climate talks in Bonn, Germany. Because Pacific island societies depend heavily on ocean ecosystems for tourism, food and livelihoods, Fiji has led a push to bring a focus on oceans into the climate change discussion, presiding over the launch of an “ocean pathway” within the negotiation process on Thursday.


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