In 2017, there were approximately 11.6 million youth participants (aged between six and 17 years) in fishing in the United States. Although there are a staggering number of people who may not want to admit how dire global warming might be, there’s little doubt that we’re starting to feel the effects. From increased instances of flooding to extended allergy seasons, scientists are quick to point out that it can all be traced back to climate change. And as ocean temperatures continue to rise, there’s another consequence of our unwillingness to protect the planet: the practice of fishing may be in real trouble. So whether you’re one of the 49 million Americans who participate in freshwater, saltwater, or fly fishing as a hobby during the average year or you contribute to (or benefit from) the commercial fishing industry, you may need to face the fact that we may soon find ourselves in hot water — both literally and figuratively.
Recreational fishing (also known as sport fishing) alone has a $115 billion impact on the nation’s economy and employs as many as 820,000 people. But officials and scientific experts are already concerned that the effects of global warming could have devastating consequences on local ecosystems — and, therefore, on those in the sport fishing industry (like tackle shops, restaurants, hotels, fishing gear manufacturers, marinas, fishing guides, and more). Although some species’ habitats are projected to improve, other types of fish may well migrate or die off, which could pose problems for hobbyists and professionals alike.
According to a recent study published in Nature Climate Science, there were at least 100 fish die-offs in Wisconsin linked to the warmer temperatures associated with climate change between 2004 and 2014. Those die-offs are predicted to double by 2050 and quadruple by 2100, which spells trouble for the state’s $2.3 billion sport fishing industry. Considering Wisconsin is the third most popular U.S. destination for anglers (behind Florida and Michigan), officials are understandably worried about the effects.
It’s not just Wisconsin, either. Since 1901, New England’s coastal waters have warmed by 3 degrees Fahrenheit, which is far more substantial than it may sound. A report conducted by Climate Central revealed that both freshwater and saltwater areas across the U.S. are warming 40% faster than expected. That means that cold water fish are moving to deeper waters, while species that thrive in warmer waters are moving closer. And while coral reefs are home to more than 25% of all known marine fish species, it’s possible that those species could move to new areas in order to adapt or disappear altogether if the trend continues. In Alaska, the Chukchi and North Bering seas are approximately 10 degrees Fahrenheit above their normal ranges, which has led to the deaths of birds and marine animals in the area. Since these warmer temperatures can support toxic algal blooms, local wildlife is already dying and the fishing economy of the region could find itself in desperate straits. The Alaskan ice is also melting much earlier than usual, which threatens the food supply for local humans and animals alike.
Certainly, these warning signs should be enough for Americans to take action, according to experts. But given the current administration’s policies on environmental protection and climate change overall, it may be a while before the United States embraces sustainable and responsible practices — and by then, it could be too late to prevent long-term damage to the planet. For now, it seems like you might want to enjoy your weekend fishing trip and your ability to pick up your favorite fillet at the local supermarket while you still can.