B.C. scientists look at climate change impacts on aquaculture production

·2 min read

As climate change causes more extreme temperature events, heat waves have the potential to hit marine environmentsespecially hard. The impacts could be especially dire for humans, as we increasingly turn to aquaculture as the best hope tofeed a global population speeding toward 10-billion people.

Researchers at Vancouver Island University are leading an investigation to study the effects of heatwaves on farmed finfishand shellfish to learn how farmers can improve crop security in an uncertain future.

“The world is changing, and we must make informed decisions to change with it successfully,” Dr. Dan Baker, a VIUFisheries and Aquaculture Professor said. “British Columbia has a crucial part to play in providing food to Canada and therest of the world in this future, and we believe we can help by addressing challenges in aquaculture industries hit hard byproblems created by climate change and other anthropogenic activities.”

Baker, along with two other lead researchers, VIU professors Dr. Spencer Russel and Dr. Timothy Green, are designingresearch projects with $549,000 in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and BC Knowledge DevelopmentFund.

Green is investigating how marine heat waves can cause death in farmed oysters. Baker will examine how heat waves mayalter how wild and farmed salmon and sturgeon respond and adapt to higher summer temperatures. Russell is investigatingthe impact on gill health of farmed salmonids.

The professors said many previous studies have focused on higher average seawater temperatures, but this generalapproach doesn’t improve understanding on impacts to food security. By looking at aquaculture specifically, the professorshope to provide information on how different species can adapt to climate change.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization places a high value on aquaculture for the global food supply. Theagency found that of the 156-million tonnes of fish products the world ate in 2018, 52 per cent already comes fromaquaculture.

In B.C., just 17,500 metric tonnes of wild salmon was harvested for human consumption, compared to 87,000 metrictonnes of farmed salmon.

Provincial shellfish farming is also on the rise, but is among the first to experience impacts of climate change. In recentyears harmful algae blooms and marine biotoxin incidents have spiked in frequency, while ocean acidification, caused by anincrease of carbon dioxide in the environment, devastated the industry in the Pacific Northwest as young shellfish wereunable to form shells.

Going forward, heatwaves lasting between a few days to a few months are expected to increase in frequency.

“By identifying how marine heatwaves alter finfish and shellfish behaviour, physiology and immune responses, we willimprove our knowledge on how these warm water events increase the susceptibility of aquatic animals to disease and makesignificant advances in the management of finfish and shellfish health and welfare,” Russell said.

Quinn Bender, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Rupert Northern View