MOREHEAD CITY — Climate change poses a significant threat to fishing and coastal communities in North Carolina, including those in Carteret County, but there are ways to address it.
Officials discussed the challenges and potential means of overcoming them during “Changing Tides: The Effects of Climate Change on North Carolina’s Fishing Industries and Coastal Communities,” an expert panel discussion hosted Wednesday by Carolina Public Press. The panel followed CPP’s five-part series, produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center, delving into how climate change affects fisheries.
The panel of seafood industry representatives, fisheries specialists, marine scientists and others participated via Zoom and discussed the way climate change threatens fishing of all kinds and the coastal communities that depend on it.
Rutgers University associate professor of ecology, evolution and natural resources Dr. Malin Pinsky said fisheries are very sensitive to changes in water temperature, which is one of the effects of climate change.
“As waters have warmed, they hold less oxygen,” Dr. Pinsky noted.
One North Carolina fishery that’s seen the effect of warmer waters driving away fish is the summer flounder fishery.
“Boats coming out of Beaufort have had to go as far north as New Jersey (to catch flounder),” Dr. Pinsky said. “Smaller boats can’t participate.”
The increasing numbers of tropical storms and more severe weather are another effect of climate change. Storms can reduce access to fisheries and coastal communities by destroying infrastructure, like public fishing piers, boat docks and coastal roads.
CPP contributing reporter Jack Igelman, who produced the Changing Tides series, said while he lives in western North Carolina, he’s vacationed at the coast and seen fishing piers disappearing after damage from hurricanes and tropical storms. Mr. Igelman cited Atlantic Beach as an example of a coastal town that’s lost public piers.
“There used to be three,” he said, “now there’s just one as the others have been hit by storms. It’s definitely a loss of (fishing) access. My sense is over the next five to 10 years we’ll see more issues with access.”
Coastal residents and others have options to attempt to mitigate or prevent the effects of climate change to fisheries and coastal communities. Pew Charitable Trust East Coast officer Leda Cunningham, who works out of Morehead City, said one option is to restore and protect marine habitat critical to fisheries, such as subaquatic vegetation.
“Things we do to protect and restore habitat are also good for water quality,” she said. “North Carolina is a very special place, we have the second-largest estuary in the country.”
Bringing together various stakeholder groups – commercial and recreational fishermen, , coastal residents and noncoastal residents – to develop solutions is another important step.
Gullah/Geechee Nation Chieftess and Head of State Queen Quet said fisheries stakeholders need to find commonality to develop climate change solutions.
“When you can get folks together, away from the dock, we can can come up with things that benefit all of us,” she said.
Public education on climate change is a key factor in addressing them. However, N.C. Sea Grant fisheries extension specialist Sarah Mirabilio said one of the biggest challenges facing scientists trying to provide information is “getting ahead of misinformation.”
Ms. Mirabilio said before the advent of social media and online coverage, there was more time to proofread and substantiate reports.
“I think that’s the hardest challenge for me,” she said. “People are being bombarded with so much information, it’s hard to fact check it. It’s challenging for anyone in the education sector to get their information out.”
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.