Global Warming Jeopardizes Norway's Fish Farms

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Fish farms, one of Norway's biggest moneymakers, are fast becoming vulnerable because of climate change. The farther north you go, the easier it is to see signs of melting sea ice or stranded polar bears, and northern countries such as Norway fear their economies will suffer.

The farther north you go, the easier it is to see signs of a changing climate, like melting sea ice or stranded polar bears. Northern countries fear their economies will suffer as well.

NPR's Christopher Joyce went to Norway for our series, Climate Connections with National Geographic. And he found that one of the country's biggest moneymakers is also among its most vulnerable.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: Oil and gas from the North Sea have made Norway rich. But what's number two in the Norwegian economy? It's fish, especially fish farming.

Mr. JAN SAPLIND(ph) (Member, Blue Planet): There's a reason why we do aquaculture in Norway.

JOYCE: That's Jan Saplind, with Blue Planet, which represents fish farmers.

Mr. SAPLIND: And that's because of the climate here being perfect for doing aquaculture on these species that we raise. So, obviously, if the climate was to change, well, then, we'd be out of business.

JOYCE: Farm, salmon and trout are raised in pens in the near pristine fjords that crease the western coast. Fjords like Helmaland, where a short boat ride will take you out to a floating platform.

(Soundbite of splashing water)

Manager Bernard Ostobovik(ph) shovels steed from a bucket into the water. The fish crashed the surface. The fjord looks like it's boiling. But Ostobovik says what's in the net is actually 98 percent water and only 2 percent fish.

Mr. BERNARD OSTOBOVIK (Manger): We give them a lot of space. We keep the density down. We keep the net clean so that every cage gets a lot of fresh and oxygen-filled water.

JOYCE: Warmer water would make these fish grow faster. But they prefer a narrow band of temperatures - too much warm water and they can get deadly parasites, like sea lice and diseases like vibriosis. A warmer climate also could cause more severe storms. 600,000 fish recently escaped from nets here after a big one. And climate change could alter the ocean turns that cleanse salmon pens.

But Jan Saplind of Blue Planet says that these threats haven't sunk in yet.

Mr. SAPLIND: We're very, very dependent on the climate staying not very much different than it is. I think people have trouble in really grasping this.

JOYCE: In part, that's because science hasn't always been clear. For example, science has once taught climate change could alter the course of the gulf stream - that's the ocean current that carries tropical waters from the South Atlantic up into northern European waters. It keeps Scandinavia warmer than it normally would be.

If the gulf stream moved, northern Europe might go into a deep freeze, severely damaging agriculture and fisheries. Most scientists now say that's probably not going to happen. That sort of scientific uncertainty, says Gunner Eskeland of the research organization CICERO, leaves people guessing.

Mr. GUNNER ESKELAND (Senior Research Fellow, Center for International Climate and Environmental Research): People say it will be unpredictable. Of course, it will be unpredictable. And we shouldn't expect that we will know everything. And that's why we should be careful.

JOYCE: Being careful means preparing to adapt. Norway has begun a study of how people in the Arctic are likely to be affected by climate change - everyone from native people who hunt game for their food, to oil and gas companies that have to drill in the far north.

Grete Hovelsrud is a researcher with CICERO.

Ms. GRETE HOVELSRUD (Senior Research Fellow, Center for International Climate and Environmental Research): People say, well, we've always adapted. But now there is a shift. We try to understand where does the responsibility for adaptation lie.

JOYCE: Adaptation costs money. And the question is, who will pay? Taxes on oil and gas revenues will likely cover most of those costs. But burning that oil and gas - Norwegians are quick to admit - helped cause the climate problem in the first place. So the government now says Norway will emit no carbon at all into the atmosphere by mid-century.

Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

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