L'adaptation : Pas seulement pour les poissons

Bien que tout le monde s’attend à des changements, personne sait vraiment comment les changements climatiques affecteront les pêches. L’auteure Maria Recchia est d’avis que la seule stratégie gagnante pour les pêches est une stratégie d’adaptation.

Traditionnellement, les pêcheurs de la Baie de Fundy pêchaient différents poissons ou changeaient d’emplacement selon les saisons, l’abondance des poissons ou les prix offerts. Et c’est ainsi que les habitudes des pêcheurs se développèrent pendant que d’autres disparurent selon l’approvisionnement et la demande du marché.

L’auteur signale qu’aujourd’hui cette stratégie d’adaptation est en péril. Pendant plusieurs années, les politiques et les incitatifs du gouvernement favorisaient le développement de pêcheurs spécialisés dans une espèce. Mais une fois que les entreprises des pêcheurs devenaient spécialisées, elles perdaient leur capacité de s’adapter aux variations de l’écosystème et du marché. Cette tendance doit donc être renversée afin de permettre aux pêcheurs de s’adapter aux défis présentés par les changements climatiques.

Adaptation: 
Not Just for the Fish

Maria Recchia
Fundy North Fishermen’s Association and the Coastal Livelihoods Trust
septembre 2007

ow will climate change affect marine fisheries?  No one really knows the answer to this question, though we are all expecting changes.  There are almost as many predictions as there are fishermen and scientists thinking about this issue.  Some say the waters will warm due to increased air temperatures.  Others say the waters will cool due to frigid water from melting glaciers entering the sea.  Ocean currents may change course or flow, but we are unsure in what way they will change.  In response to a changing environment, marine species may change their distribution and migration patterns, feed may become more abundant or scarcer, disease may become a factor where it had not been.  All of this uncertainty leads me to believe that the only successful fisheries strategy will be an adaptive strategy.


(Photo: Maria Recchia)

Inshore fisheries in the Bay of Fundy have a long history of adaptability.  The traditional inshore fisherman switches gear, species, and fishing locations throughout the year based on the seasons, abundance of fish, and market value.  He might fish for scallops in January, February, and March, gaspereau (for lobster bait) in April, lobster in May and June, scallops, dogfish, halibut, or herring in the summer months, and lobster again in November and December.  In years past, local fishermen fished also for hake, salmon, mackerel, cod, haddock, and pollock.  This varied strategy allows fishermen to follow environmental ups and downs as well as market fluctuations.  There is never a need or a motivation to fish out the last fish.  If the stock declines, it becomes economically unfeasible to pursue it.  The fisherman may choose to focus on another fishery that season or, if he has done well that year he may take some time off to work on his boat or his gear. 

In years past, new fisheries developed when the supply was there and a market was created.  Similarly some fisheries disappeared as stocks dwindled or the market waned. Today this adaptive strategy is in jeopardy.  For many years, government policy and incentives have favoured the development of single-species fishermen or, even more so, fishing companies.  Once a fishing enterprise becomes specialized, it no longer has the ability to ride out the ups and downs of the ecosystem and the market.  If a boat specializes in groundfish (cod, haddock, and pollock), they are forced to fish those species until the stocks have collapsed.  And that is exactly what happened to the groundfish stocks.  The collapse of the cod fishery that was felt in Newfoundland several years ago has now occurred in the Bay of Fundy.  The fishery has disappeared.  Was the groundfish collapse related to climate change or was it just another case of overfishing?  At this point, we may never know, but we must work to prevent such ecological and social devastation from happening again.    


(Photo: Maria Recchia)

I am a firm believer in the resiliency of the small-boat, multi-license fishery for two main reasons.  Firstly, it eliminates the need to overfish and secondly, it provides a mechanism to adapt to a changing environment.  In order for this strategy to be successful, fishermen need to be able to create or enter new fisheries as the traditional fisheries dwindle or to change their fishing strategy as the ecosystem changes.  If migration patterns change, fishermen may need to change their fishing seasons.  Or, if species distribution changes, fishermen may need to alter where they fish or to create new fisheries for species that are locally plentiful.  Unfortunately, inshore fishermen have been limited drastically in what, how, when, where, and how much they can fish.  In Canada today, fisheries management is so strict that it is nearly impossible for inshore fishermen to create a new fishery or change the rules of an existing fishery.  Large corporations have a much easier time with this since they have the money to pay for feasibility studies and the political connections to change policy.

 The erosion of the inshore fisheries’ traditional adaptive strategies and the immovability of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are resulting in increasing vulnerability as climate change proceeds.  I am deeply concerned with the health of the marine environment, as are many inshore fishermen.  Fishing families from small fishing communities all around the Bay of Fundy coast want to maintain their families’ fishing livelihoods for future generations.  But there is great concern that the inshore fisherman is going the way of the cod.


(Photo: Maria Recchia)

 I hope we will be able to curb climate change through conservation and awareness.  I am convinced that I need to use less fossil fuel in all aspects of my life.  But sadly, I am also convinced that climate change is here and progressing quickly.  Adaptation will be an important strategy in the natural resource-based sectors.  We are often so focussed on progress and new ideas that we overlook old ways that are as sound today as they were in the past.  To me, the best strategy to deal with climate change in the fisheries is to protect and expand the adaptive community-based inshore multi-license fishery.  It will support fishing communities today and allow fishing livelihoods to continue to adapt to ecological change as they have done throughout history.

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