Fisheries and commercial aquaculture

As a result of climate change, Quebec’s vast water system of thousands of lakes and rivers as well as the St. Lawrence River and Gulf is undergoing changes, starting with rising surface water temperatures. Changes in precipitation regimes, a decrease in ice cover, a rise in relative sea level, a decline in dissolved oxygen off Canadian coasts, and water acidification have also been observed. These trends are expected to continue in the future and will influence the behaviour, distribution, metabolism, survival and reproduction of fished species, as well as affecting infrastructure and safety at sea.

Changes in resources

The income of the fishing and aquaculture industry depends mainly on the volume and value of the resource. Changes in both volume and value are expected due to the impact of climate change on the distribution, physiology, growth, survival and reproduction of certain species, and consequently on population dynamics and composition. Vessel trip costs may be higher when searching for high market value species that occur further from shore or in deeper water. In addition, some regions may see the emergence of species of high or low commercial value due to a change in their range. 

For example, northern shrimp, an economically important species in Quebec, are particularly sensitive to the combined conditions of increasing temperature and decreasing pH and dissolved oxygen in the water. Modelling predicts that northern shrimp will become scarce near the southern limit of their current range, with a decrease in abundance and catch potential and a shift in range toward the north. Modelling also suggests a decrease in the size of this species throughout its range.

Research project

Vulnerability of Northern Shrimp Populations to Climate and Global Changes Along the East Coast of Canada - From Natural Resource to Coastal Communities

This project raised awareness among key fisheries stakeholders of the expected effects of global ocean changes on northern shrimp populations and fisheries based on new, robust findings. It helped identify potential adaptation solutions to best manage the future of shrimp resources and the shrimp industry.

As temperatures warm, some species such as salmonids, which are more adapted to cold waters, will see their preferred thermal habitat diminish in both northern lakes and rivers, with impacts on sport fishing, subsistence fishing and even fish farming. This is particularly the case for brook trout, which, due to higher average temperatures during sexual maturation and incubation in hatcheries, suffer from changes in the breeding season, putting the future of this major resource for fish farming and recreational fishing in Quebec at risk.


Research project

Adapting Brook Trout Production to Climate Change: Assessing the Significance of Epigenetic Effects

This project provided knowledge to better adaptation strategies for production and management to ensure the sustainability of the important aquaculture industry and recreational tourism activities that depend on brook trout.

Rising water temperatures could also encourage the emergence of invasive exotic species and pathogens that pose a risk to commercial species and possibly human health. For example, Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus are zoonoses associated with seafood consumption that are highly sensitive to temperature, so anticipated temperature increases over the coming decades could boost their proliferation. Shellfish harvesting remains an important recreational and commercial activity in Quebec. However, harvesting areas (Côte-Nord, the Gaspé Peninsula, the Lower St. Lawrence, Prince Edward Island) may be at greater risk, depending on changes in water temperatures.

Research project

Modeling of Future Water Temperature Scenarios in Coastal Environments and Implications for Potential Infection by Vibrio Parahaemolyticus and Vibrio Vulnificus

The projections from the project serve to identify plausible risks and protect human health and the shellfish industry in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Effects on infrastructure and safety

In addition to impacts related to the biological responses of species to climate change, other impacts on the fishing and aquaculture industry can be caused by extreme events. Projected changes in storm and wave patterns will increase the risk to infrastructure and reduce safety at sea, especially for small fishing vessels. Revenues could also be affected by a reduction in operating days due to adverse weather conditions.  More frequent and intense rain events could increase the vulnerability of some freshwater aquaculture facilities due to localized flooding and overflow events.

Changing the way of life and the development of certain communities

The maritime regions, the Gaspé Peninsula, the Magdalen Islands, Côte-Nord, the Lower St. Lawrence and Nunavik will be particularly affected since their economies and the way of life of their communities depend largely on this industry. For example, for northern Quebec, where climate change is occurring faster than in the south, the loss of some of the preferred fish habitats traditionally harvested by northern communities will lead to changes in their way of life. In some communities, the collapse of stocks or the displacement of some species could affect employment opportunities in the industry and devitalize already fragile communities.

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