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Global Warming and Fisheries: Thoughts on a Sensible Response

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  • Atmospheric measurements show that so-called greenhouse gases have been accumulating in the Earth’s atmosphere for well over a century. There are strong indications that human activity plays a significant role in this process. One consequence of the accumulation of greenhouse gases is thought to be an increase in global temperatures above what would otherwise be the case. Projections on the basis of large scale climatic models suggest that this warming could be as much as 2-6°C during the 21st Century. Temperature changes of this magnitude would almost certainly lead to a significant alteration in the geographical pattern of economic conditions and conceivably cause long term harm. Among the economic activities that may be significantly affected by global warming are the world’s fisheries. If global warming leads to a change in oceanographic conditions, which seems likely, the biological growth, geographical range and behaviour of fish stocks may also change. This could have a deep impact on fisheries as an economic production activity especially locally and possibly also globally. The problem, however, is that this is about as much as we know. We know very little about the direction let alone the magnitude of the impact of global warming on fisheries both regionally and globally. A recent large scale study of the impact of global warming on Arctic and sub-Arctic fisheries suggests that here the impact is more likely to be beneficial than detrimental, but the uncertainty is great. Thus, the world’s nations are faced with a difficult decision problem. In very broad terms the choice is between two options: The first is to embark right away on a program of significantly reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. This option is very costly but may generate benefits later. The latter option is to postpone all drastic actions until the facts of the matter have become clearer and less uncertain. This saves outlays now but can result in additional costs later. This decision problem is the main subject of the paper. The paper shows that even if global warming were a certainty and could actually be significantly counteracted by reduced greenhouse gas emissions, this would not necessarily be the best policy. The uncertainty about global warming and the human impact on it serves to render this option even less attractive. The paper shows that the most sensible option may well be to postpone action until more reliable information becomes available.
  • Keywords: Global Warming, Global Warming and Uncertainty, Sensible Response to Global Warming, Fisheries and Global Warming
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  • Arnason, Ragnar. 2006. Global Warming and Fisheries: Thoughts on a Sensible Response. In: Proceedings of the Thirteenth Biennial Conference of the International Institute of Fisheries Economics & Trade, July 11-14, 2006, Portsmouth, UK: Rebuilding Fisheries in an Uncertain Environment. Compiled by Ann L. Shriver. International Institute of Fisheries Economics & Trade, Corvallis, Oregon, USA, 2006. CD ROM. ISBN 0-9763432-3-1
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  • The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Marine Fisheries Service, United States Department of Commerce (NOAA Fisheries); United Kingdom Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA); The United States Agency for International Development supported Aquaculture Collaborative Research and Support Program (ACRSP).
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