Climate change extends Arctic fishing

Officials in Nunavut's Baffin Island fishery say climate change has helped their business somewhat, thanks to longer fishing seasons in recent years.

Officials in Nunavut's Baffin Island fishery say climate change has benefited their business somewhat, thanks to longer fishing seasons in recent years.

The Baffin Fisheries Coalition says its turbot and shrimp fishing seasons have lengthened dramatically in the past decade because of a warming Arctic climate.

"Of course it's a concern, but there are pluses and minuses to everything, I guess. From a fishing perspective, I'm not concerned — I'm very excited. It's very positive," Jerry Ward, the coalition's chief operating officer, told CBC News.

Off the northern coast of Baffin Island, the fishing season started about a month earlier than it would have 10 years ago. Ward said the same changes have applied off southern Baffin Island, which saw a record 10-month-long season in 2007.

"It's a good thing because if you start earlier, you take the uncertainty out of your business from the planning perspective," he said. "These are large vessels, and we find something else for them to do in the winter months."

Ward said the coalition has also seen more capelin fish that could lure more cod and other larger fish farther north. Overall, the ability to stay out on the water longer can mean fishing crews can meet their turbot and shrimp quotas faster, he said.

Dangerous conditions

At the same time, Ward said there are numerous downsides to climate change in the North, as there have been more severe thunderstorms that would create dangerous fishing conditions. As well, he said climate change has created hazards for Inuit living on Baffin Island.

"From a traditional way of life, from an Inuit perspective, it is of major concern because of the breaking up of the ice and that sort of thing, and the danger of travelling on the ice, and so on," he said.

Concerns in Nunavut about warming air temperatures, receding sea ice and record-low snowfall have been backed up by a report released last week by an international team of climate scientists.

The new Arctic Report Card, released Thursday, "tells a story of widespread, continued and even dramatic effects of a warming Arctic," said Jackie Richter-Menge of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facility.

"This isn't just a climatological effect. It impacts the people that live there," she added.

'Running for the hills'

The Arctic Report Card says warming has taken place at a near-record pace in the first half of 2010, with monthly readings over 4 C above normal in Northern Canada.

Atmospheric scientists concerned about global warming have focused on the Arctic because that is a region where some effects are expected to be felt first.

"One thing we have to face up to is that rates of sea-level rise are probably going to be increasing into the future and ultimately, for some people, that is going to mean running for the hills, literally," Martin Sharp, a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at the University of Alberta, told CBC News.

"When they run, of course, they have to go somewhere else, so there are also implications for the communities that have to accommodate refugees."

Sharp, one of several Canadian contributors to the Arctic Report Card, said the findings could focus more scientific and political attention on the Canadian Arctic.

With files from The Associated Press