New Zealand Salmon Farmer Says Climate Change Is Happening Faster Than Expected

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85% of chinook salmon, otherwise known as king salmon, come from New Zealand. One of the largest producers is New Zealand King Salmon, whose CEO, Grant Rosewarne, tells The Guardian that 42% of the fish being raised in some of its ocean farms have died this year before reaching maturity because the water is too warm for them to survive.

“There should be alarm bells,” Rosewarne said. “When I joined this company, I never heard of the term ‘marine heatwave.’ Recently, there’s been three of them. We thought we had more time. Climate change is a slow process but faster than many people think. We thought that climate change is a really slow effect, detected over decades — and possibly we’ve got, two decades before we’re even impacted. Well, within one decade we were impacted.” He says certain industries like fish farming are “canaries in the coalmine.”

It is normal for a small percentage of farmed fish to die each year, but warming temperatures have significantly increased those deaths. In 2022, the company’s “percentage mortality of biomass” for the fish was as much as 42% in warm water areas where the fish were not towed to cooler zones, compared to 17% in 2018. Even when the fish were towed out to cooler waters, many were dying — 37% in 2022, compared to just 10% in 2018.

Over the summer months, hotter water temperatures, heated by warm currents coming down from the Coral Sea, pushed some of the farmed populations over the edge. “We see [temperatures] elevated by a full degree — I know that doesn’t sound much to people, but a full degree is huge for our species. If you get to 18 degrees Celsius for two weeks, then you have a mass mortality event on your hands.”

1,269 Tons Of Dead Salmon

According to RNZ, trucks have dumped 1,269 tons of dead fish and waste in landfill at Blenheim, New Zealand over the summer. 632 tons were disposed of in February alone. That’s up from the 194 tons disposed of in February 2020.

Now the company says it will “fallow” three of its farms in the warmer Pelorus sound area, keeping just one open to run trials. The company is hoping to obtain a permit from the government to operate its fish farming operations in areas where water temperatures are cooler. Given that king salmon is an important export product for New Zealand, it is likely the government will want to help keep the industry thriving.

New Zealand is a leader among the world’s nations when it comes to taking climate change seriously and devising strategies to lower its carbon emissions, including a mandate that all government agencies purchase electric vehicles when replacing the cars and trucks they have in their fleets at present.

The Takeaway

For many people, climate change is an abstraction, something that won’t be a concern for decades or even centuries to come. But it’s here now in a thousand different ways, from overheated salmon to massive forest fires, punishing droughts, and more violent storms.

Fox News and fossil fuel apologists may pooh-pooh the urgency, but physics cares little for posturing and strutting one’s ignorance. The reality is, climate change is already here and getting more destructive by the day. We ignore the evidence in front of us at out peril.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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