Living dangerously: climate change means extra risks for baby fish dangerously: climate change means extra risks for baby fish

Published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, new research from the University of Adelaide suggests that climate change will reduce the number of baby fish that make it to adulthood.

The study indicates that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide could have an impact through altering the behaviour of juvenile fish, leading to poorer chances of survival.

“After hatching in the open ocean, baby fish travel to reefs or mangroves as safe places to feed and grow into adults,” explained Tullio Rossi, lead author on the study and PhD candidate at The Environment Institute, University of Adelaide.

“But when ocean acidity increases due to higher dissolved carbon dioxide, a number of factors reduce the chance of fish actually finding those safe havens.”

Tullio’s study focused on barramundi, a tropical fish whose range extends from the eastern Indian Ocean to the western Central Pacific. The species is highly valued across fisheries production, tourism and aquaculture industries.

In Australia, commercial barramundi fisheries produce around 5000 tonnes per annum, with an estimated production value of around AU$45 million.

“Wild barramundi migrate from fresh water to the ocean to spawn, with eggs and freshly hatched fish typically found around river mouths and marine bays,” said Tullio.

“At around two weeks of age, juvenile barramundi settle into mangroves and wetland habitats.”

But how do they know where to go? By listening.

Snapping shrimp and other creatures living in mangroves produce an underwater ruckus the fish are able to hear and follow.

Tullio’s research showed that when barramundi hatch and grow under conditions of elevated carbon dioxide, their response to mangrove sound is changed from attraction to avoidance. The study conditions were designed to reflect carbon dioxide levels expected by the end of this century at the current rate of carbon emissions.

“Our results show that ocean acidification can disrupt the window of opportunity for sound-driven orientation by baby barramundi towards settlement habitats,” said Tullio.

“This could lead to decreased chances of finding suitable adult habitat, leaving fish exposed to predation and starvation for longer periods of time.”

The study also found that even if they do find suitable shelter, baby barramundi exposed to elevated carbon dioxide are then inclined to remain hidden more than normal. From an ecological perspective, this might result in decreased success in finding food.

The scientists believe that increased ocean acidity changes how fish process sensory information via neurotransmitters, creating striking and dangerous alterations in their behaviour.

“If we continue to burn fossil fuels at current levels we could put baby fish in serious trouble, ultimately leaving them lost in an acidified ocean,” says Tullio.

“And this would inevitably lead to fewer adult fish and, potentially, reduced stocks for the fisheries we depend on for food.”

But it’s not too late.

“The good news is that we are still in time to limit our carbon emissions to levels that are not too dangerous for marine animals,” said Tullio.

Signed by 196 nations, The Paris Agreement was reached on December 12 2015, and commits nations to a timetable of emissions reductions aimed at keeping temperatures ‘well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.’

Tullio Rossi performed this study in collaboration with Professor Sean Connell (University of Adelaide), Dr Stephen Simpson (University of Exeter) and Professor Philip Munday (James Cook University).

Despite soaring seafood consumption, fishing and aquaculture only see small growth

While Australia’s love of seafood is tipped to continue with business information analysts at IBISWorld forecasting overall fish and seafood consumption to rise by only 5 per cent – from 18.7 kilograms per capita in 2015 to 19.6 kilograms per capita by 2021.

Subdued growth is anticipated for the nation’s Fishing and Aquaculture industries, forecast to grow by an annualised 0.9 per cent and 2.7 per cent respectively from 2015-2021. 

The ongoing rise in disposable incomes and health consciousness, coupled with rising awareness about the health benefits of certain types of fish and seafood, particularly salmon, is continuing to drive overall fish and seafood consumption – however industry challenges are expected to dampen revenue growth.

Ongoing depletion of fish stocks, increasing competition from imports and seafood farming, rising operating costs, and stricter regulation of catch quotas have hurt industry revenue. In 2015-16, IBISWorld forecasts industry revenue of $1.46 billion, forecast to grow by an annualised 0.9% over the coming five years to $1.5 billion in 2020-21.
Rock lobsters are the largest contributor to industry revenue accounting for 32.6%, followed by fish (32.4%), crustaceans including prawns, crabs and crayfish (20%), and molluscs including abalone, octopus, scallops and squid (14.9%).

Fish caught by industry operators account for the largest share of production – at more than 70% by tonnage – however increasing competition from Australia’s Aquaculture industry, particularly in the provision of popular fish products, such as salmon and trout, resulting in the fish segment decreasing as a share of revenue.

Sardines are the largest contributor to fish production volumes for the industry, followed by tuna, shark and flathead.

Aquaculture is one of Australia’s most lucrative primary industries, largely due to its emergence as the most viable solution to maintaining seafood production in the face of ongoing declines in national and global fishing stocks, however rising industry operation costs – including fuel and wage costs – are anticipated to impact industry profit margins, reducing revenue growth. Industry revenue is forecast to at an annualised 2.7% over the coming five years, from $1.2 billion in 2015-16 to $1.3 billion by 2020-21.
Australia’s Aquaculture industry accounts for just under 35% of all fishery production in Australia and approximately 45% of total fishery value, with production increasing by an annualised 4.1% over the five years to 2015-16. This growth emphasises the role that aquaculture has played in creating a more sustainable fishing sector in Australia by supplementing the declining volumes of seafood caught in the wild. The industry also benefits from maintaining a more consistent supply of popular species, such as salmon, due to the controlled farming environments.

Salmon and trout account for 48.9% of industry revenue, followed by tuna (14.8%), edible oysters (10.5%), pearl oysters (9.7%), crustaceans (6.8%), other fish (6.3%) and other molluscs (3%).


Catch of the day: the TPP might be good news for sustainable fisheries

Since the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) text was released earlier this month, commentators have sought to assess its impact on the environment.

They have expressed concerns about the enhanced rights it provides for investors, and criticised the absence of climate change mitigation in its provisions. However, the TPP does contain clauses that can enable countries to combat another global environmental crisis: overfishing.

Many of the world’s most significant producers and consumers of fish are parties to the TPP. Japan and the United States are the top two importers of fish products, while the United States, Vietnam, Chile, and Canada are some of the biggest exporters. If the TPP comes into force, it will apply to a significant proportion of the global fish trade and its environmental impacts.

Background: the crisis of overfishing

As the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Blue Planet Report emphasised last month, overfishing destroys marine ecosystems. Yet despite the risk of massive collapse of fish stocks, the trade in fish and fish products continues to grow, with exports reaching a new record of more than US$136 billion in 2013.

Certain features of the trade are particularly worrying. For example, international and domestic laws that limit catches, promote effective management, and protect certain species are often ignored.

Illegal, unregulated, or unreported (IUU) fishing accounts for between 13% and 31% of catches and more than 50% in some regions. Countries could do more to close their markets to IUU fish products. The European Union has led the way in using trade measures – including import bans against offending countries such as Cambodia, Guinea and Sri Lanka – to fight against IUU fishing. The United States, Japan, and other countries that are now in the TPP have not been as proactive.

The trade in fish products is also distorted by massive subsidies. In fact, taxpayers, through the policies of their respective countries, are propping up the fishing sector. Fisheries subsidies were estimated at about US$35 billion in 2009. These subsidies allow boats to be built and operated when it would be otherwise unprofitable to do so.

Ongoing negotiations to clarify and reform fisheries subsidies at the World Trade Organisation have failed to achieve agreement.

TPP for sustainable fisheries?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership attempts to address these problems — at least for the trade between TPP countries.

In the separate Environment Chapter, the agreement recognises that participating nations may use measures to prevent trade in fish products that result from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. These measures may include catch documentation schemes and port access restrictions.

Given the scale of trade between TPP parties, an increased use of trade measures to control IUU fishing – and therefore overfishing – is an important development. It is estimated that within the United States, for example, between 20% and 32% of wild-caught seafood imports are illegal. The United States intends to improve its methods to trace fish products throughout the supply chain, and the TPP would support this initiative as well as other measures to restrict the trade in IUU fish.

Methods that allow countries to restrict access to ports of certain fish products are also important. The Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing was concluded by members of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2009 and ratified by Australia this year. But it does not yet have enough ratifications to come into force.

Seven of the twelve parties to the TPP are yet to ratify this FAO agreement (including Canada and Japan). So the TPP’s explicit obligation for parties to implement port state measures to combat IUU practices is a positive development.

Also welcome is the Environment Chapter’s prohibition on subsidies for fishing that “negatively affect fish stocks that are in an overfished condition”. Many nations subsidise their fishing industries, with Japan currently providing the most subsidies among developed countries (19.7% of total). Despite continuing uncertainty about how to characterise and document the subsidies that will be prohibited under the TPP, getting agreement on this issue is a significant achievement that may even influence the broader reform currently discussed at the World Trade Organisation.

Other provisions in the Environment Chapter require each nation to seek to operate a science-based fisheries management system, and promote the long-term conservation of sharks, marine turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals. The draft text leaked last year shows that these provisions could have been stronger, even extending to shark finning and whaling.

One strength in the TPP is that the obligations relating to fisheries are enforceable. Countries can bring legal challenges against one another for violations in a way that is not always possible under environmental treaties.

To be sure, the enforcement of the provisions of the Environment Chapter will depend on the willingness of countries to take environmental claims against one another – a willingness that is rare in the context of other US-partner free trade agreements – but having the possibility is a positive step.

Australia showed that it is willing to take such litigation when it brought a claim against Japan over whaling in the International Court of Justice.

The TPP’s environmental credentials

Now that the negotiations of the TPP have concluded and the text has been made available, TPP Parties will be engaged in a process of consultation and review before each country decides to ratify. As part of this process, politicians and the public should make an assessment of the environmental credentials of this agreement.

In Australia, ratification will not occur until after the TPP and accompanying National Interest Analysis are tabled in the Parliament. The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties will also conduct an inquiry and will report to Parliament.

In regard to fisheries, the provisions in the Environment Chapter should be assessed alongside other TPP rules, particularly those concerning investor protection and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). For example, would denying a supertrawler access to territorial waters leave Australia open to expensive litigation and liability for compensation? It may be that the useful rules relating to the trade in fish do not outweigh such risks.

Moreover, the fate of fisheries is only one of many urgent environmental problems. There is no doubt that the TPP’s vague support for transitioning to a “low-emissions economy”, for example, will do little to alleviate climate change.

A thorough interrogation of the TPP’s environmental credentials must precede Australia’s ratification. This article seeks to contribute to this ongoing work and finds that the agreement contains trade rules that can help countries to combat overfishing.

The Conversation

Margaret Young, Associate Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Seaweed: the next big opportunity in snacking?

Seaweed is a rare example of an opportunity to get in at Day One of a new growth market for snacks, predicts New Nutrition Business, with sales of seaweed snacks in the US already overtaking those of kale. 

“Launches of seaweed snack products are proliferating and sales outstrip those of kale, the trendy green vegetable that has benefited from a huge degree of hype since 2010 and has been embraced by young health-conscious urban consumers,” says Julian Mellentin, director of New Nutrition Business, which outlines five steps to creating a successful seaweed snack in a new report1. “Seaweed’s transition from the food fringes to mainstream will be propelled by snack products ,” he adds.

In the US, retail sales of seaweed snacks were valued at over $USD250 million in 2014, a year when market growth was around 30 per cent, and the last two years has seen a surge in launches of snack products with seaweed. 

Long a favorite of health-conscious consumers on the food fringes, seaweed’s “naturally functional” advantages – it’s a low-calorie source of protein and fiber, richer in trace minerals and vitamins than kale, and it ticks a number of free-from boxes – are winning it wider attention.

“Seaweed is a naturally-healthy plant-based ingredient, with a range of natural nutritional advantages and impeccable sustainability credentials,” says Mellentin. “These features are gaining it growing media coverage, and the attention of health-conscious consumers who are looking for an interesting new snack.”

In response to this growing consumer interest, snack brands have started to include seaweed in existing products, such as seaweed-flavoured rice chips, and there are also totally new brands that use a variety of seaweed types in inventive formats.

The new report sets out five steps to best position, market, price and distribute seaweed snacks in the US and Europe. The report provides practical insights for companies large or small aiming to create a successful seaweed snack brand. Snapshots of key brands provide real-world examples of products, marketing and communications for seaweed snacks.


Wealth and health issues contribute to more seafood in diets

 According to Anastasia Alieva, Head of Fresh Food Research at Euromonitor International, Fresh fish and seafood has seen growth over 2009-2014 across all global regions apart from Western Europe, where consumers were most affected by financial crisis. In 2014 and over forecast period leading to 2019, fish and seafood is projected to have strong performance on both, global and regional level.

“As wealth grows in developing regions, fish and seafood is becoming more affordable and is eaten on increased number of occasions, especially in Asia-Pacific and Latin American markets where seafood forms big part of local diets,” said Ms Alieva.

While seafood is perceived as a healthier source of protein than meat in many countries, especially where health of the nations is threatened by high obesity rates, at the same time, there is falling red meat consumption and growing consumption of fish and seafood in Europe and North America where consumers are concerned about health and wellness issues.

Australia was ranked 31st for volume consumption of fish and seafood in 2014, with 5,299,900 tonnes. This equates to 11.6kg of fish and seafood per capita in 2014.

The variety of cuts from individual portions to filleted and cleaned fish and convenient, hygienic packaging offered by retailers also contribute to increased number of purchases as those consumers, who appreciate convenience feel more confident buying and cooking seafood, noted Euromonitor.   

If we want to keep eating tuna, the world needs to learn how to share

Amid growing demand for seafood, gas and other resources drawn from the world’s oceans, and growing stresses from climate change, we examine some of the challenges and solutions for developing “the blue economy” in smarter, more sustainable ways.

Fishing for tuna, swordfish, jack mackerel, Patagonian toothfish and many other species happens far out at sea, with fisheries often crossing multiple international boundaries.

It’s a huge global industry, which provides billions of dollars a year in direct and indirect benefits to developed and developing countries, and which supplies the world’s food markets. However, overfishing and weak management are serious threats, estimated to cost the world up to US$50 billion a year in lost benefits.

If we don’t learn to better manage transnational fisheries, we risk the long-term viability of key fisheries, as extraordinary global marine biodiversity is reduced to a shadow of its former health.

Whether you care about being better custodians of the Earth’s oceans, or simply want to be sure that we’ll have plenty of good fish in the sea to catch and eat for generations to come, it’s a huge global challenge.

Fortunately, there are new solutions we should be considering – including lessons from a tuna hotspot in the Pacific.


Fresh fish for sale in the Solomon Islands – one of the Pacific nations trialling more sustainable tuna fishing. Quentin Hanich, Author provided


What we’re doing now is making things worse

Australia and other concerned nations have long warned that current levels of fishing are unsustainable and “leading inexorably to an impending crisis for global marine fisheries.”

Strong international action is required to strengthen fisheries management across multiple boundaries, reduce catches to sustainable levels, and optimise benefits to meet development goals.

But traditional management approaches can be politically contentious, especially because they often require consensus from numerous countries with conflicting interests.


A man walks among yellowfin tuna at a fishing port in southern Taiwan in 2010. The United Nations warned at the time that the world risked becoming fishless by 2050 unless fishing fleets are slashed and stocks allowed to recover. Pichi Chuang/Reuters


It’s difficult to get multiple countries to agree on restrictions on fishing activities, or controls on fishing methods, or limits to access to fishing grounds or seasons – especially when that may not seem in their short-term national interest. That can be a particular concern for developing states that depend significantly on fisheries, with few other development and resource options.

Existing negotiation and treaty processes fail to successfully resolve the political aspects of conservation negotiations, and consequently, countries often prove unwilling to compromise.

Some argue that some form of property or use right must be distributed among participants to deal with overfishing, so that industry and others have the right incentives to fish in ways that ensure long-term sustainability and economic viability.

However, applying rights-based management approaches to international fisheries requires first that everyone involved agrees on national allocations before those fishing rights trickle down to those actually catching the fish. Determining such rights through an explicit allocation process is highly fraught and take years of effort, particularly as allocation decisions generally require consensus.

While the negotiations drag on, overfishing continues – and can be exacerbated in a race-to-fish to support arguments for more generous allocations.

In order to build political support, new benefits are required that balance conservation costs. Conservation proponents point to long-term benefits from conservation reductions, but these are often too distant to motivate narrowly focused governments facing short-term electoral cycles.

Rights-based management proponents will argue incentives and higher economic efficiency, but fail to provide a political pathway to distribute these benefits between States with diverse interests.

Solutions for the trans-boundary open ocean require sustainability, value and certainty – not politics.


Unloading fish in the Pacific. Quentin Hanich, Author provided


Pacific nations show the value of scarcity

New markets are required that introduce scarcity values into conservation and turn limits into benefits. International negotiations need to move beyond traditional approaches and adopt innovative measures that create new markets.

A small group of Pacific Island nations are attempting just that, trialling different approaches to managing a crucial part of the world’s tuna supplies.

The Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu are all Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), working together to make fishing for tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (shown in the map below) more sustainable.


The Pacific Ocean, crowded with maritime jurisdictional claims. Q. Hanich & M. Tsamenyi (eds) Navigating Pacific Fisheries: Legal and Policy Trends in the Implementation of International Fisheries Instruments in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. University of Wollongong. Wollongong, Australia. 2009., Author provided


The Western and Central Pacific Ocean is home to the world’s most productive tuna fisheries, supplying global markets with skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye, and albacore tunas. These were collectively worth approximately US$5.8 billion in 2014 and accounted for 60% of the global tuna catch.

Unfortunately, like many other global fisheries, overfishing is occurring and a political stalemate is undermining conservation.


Quentin Hanich, Author provided


Pacific Island nations have long been concerned about conservation limits putting a disproportionate burden of conservation action on to small island nations, and unfairly limiting their development aspirations. There was some justification for those concerns.

Previously proposed conservation measures would have directly benefited longstanding distant water fishing fleets, through capacity or catch limits that rewarded historical capacity and catch, while locking out developing nations with no history of overfishing, and potentially no future opportunity. In effect – it would have been the reverse of the polluter pays principle.

The small group of PNA nations control access to the most productive fishing grounds. So they aare a crucial voting bloc within the Western and Central Pacific Fishing Commission – an international treaty based organisation with responsibility over the Western and Central Pacific tuna fisheries.

Given that the PNA member nations arguably own and control access to most of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean tuna fishery, any conservation and management response must be fully supported by these countries and explicitly avoid any disproportionate conservation burden.



In recent years, the PNA nations have collectively implemented a Vessel Day Scheme that limited access to their productive fisheries and introduced a scarcity value that has dramatically increased benefits. In effect, they have created a new market for ‘fishing days’ and are now trialling auctioning and pooling of days to maximise their benefits.

Next, these countries will need to bring in tighter limits to reduce catches of bigeye tuna to sustainable levels. One of the key impacts on bigeye tuna is the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) that are set at sea by large-scale purse seiners (seines are also known dragnets) to target skipjack tuna.


Freshly caught tuna in the Solomon Islands. Filip Milovac/WorldFish/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND


While countries involved with distant water fishing have proposed traditional measures that would apply across-the-board restrictions at high cost to the island states, the PNA members have been trialling satellite-based monitoring of FADs at sea. They are also cooperating to begin charging additional fees for the use of FAD sets within their waters, beginning in 2016.

This will create an incentive for purse seiners to set on free swimming schools and reduce FAD sets, and mitigate conservation costs for Pacific island through the additional financial revenue from the licensing fees.

As the scheme settles in, conservation limits can then be implemented to gradually reduce the number of FADs that can be set. This will increase the scarcity value of the FAD set, while decreasing the catch of bigeye tuna to more sustainable levels, and effectively create a new market for ‘FAD sets’.

Innovative management and market solutions will be critical to the sustainable, profitable and equitable future of the global “blue economy”. In trans-boundary fisheries, the Pacific is setting the agenda.

The Conversation

Quentin Hanich is Associate Professor at University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.