Congress Responds to Climate Change Impact on Seabirds and Fisheries

Studies show dramatic impact of climate change on our wildlife and fisheries right here on our California coast and Congress prepares to take action

It’s been a rough month for California's seabirds, marine wildlife, and our fishing communities. Two widely reported studies highlight the dramatic impact of climate change on our wildlife and fisheries right here off the California coast. The studies underscore the importance of actions such as HR 4679, the Climate-Ready Fisheries Act of 2019, which passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee this week.

The first study shows that from 2014 to 2016, over a million Common Murres from Alaska through California, about 15% of the population, died as result of a marine heat wave known as the “Warm Blob.” The Warm Blob wreaked havoc on our normally cold, highly productive waters, causing fish like anchovies, sardine, sand lance, squids and krill to move to deeper, colder waters and be less available in other ways. In turn, the marine life that feed on them suffered, competing with each other for what little food was left to be found. The result was a massive die-off of this beautiful seabird.

The second study shows that ocean acidification caused by carbon emissions is harming shell-building animals in the ocean including Dungeness crab. The study found that larval Dungeness crabs’ shells suffer damage in west coast seawater, putting at risk the most lucrative fishery in California and a beloved local seafood.

These newly documented impacts show there has never been a better time for action now to stop climate change and help birds adapt. This morning, a federal bill we support, the bi-partisan Climate-Ready Fisheries Act of 2019 advanced out of the House Natural Resources Committee. This legislation would help the agencies that manage fisheries prepare for changing ocean conditions.

Similarly, the  Forage Fish Conservation Act, H.R. 2236, would amend our federal fishery management law to ensure catch levels of forage fish are sensitive to impacts from climate change such as greater variability in stock size, and, better account for the role that forage fish play in the ocean ecosystem.

Finally, Oregon Representative Suzanne Bonamici recently introduced the Blue Carbon for Our Planet Act, H.R. 5589, which will help the United States meet a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, by creating a better understanding of the carbon storage benefits of coastal ecosystems.

At the state level, California is a leader in taking on climate change. For example Senate Bill 100, passed in 2018 requires that all of California’s electricity be from carbon-free sources by 2045.

As for adaptation, as already know what we need to do to help seabirds and other marine life thrive in the face of climate change. Audubon members and activists have been key players in many of these advances.

In the case of the Common Murre, California outlawed the practice of collecting eggs from breeding colonies over 100 years ago. We dramatically reduced the threat of oil spills have banned certain types fishing gears that used to decimate murres. We’ve restored their island breeding colonies, such as Devil’s Slide Rock in Pacifica, and Yaquina Head in Oregon. California has set annual catch limits for anchovy and herring that ensure ample food for predators like seabirds. We established marine reserves in California and Oregon that help replenish fish stocks, and have protected eelgrass beds in estuaries which serve as fish nurseries.

These conservation efforts have paid off—the latest research by state and federal agencies estimates that we’ve protected 5-10% of the U.S. western population of Common Murres. That’s hundreds of thousands of murres saved in just California and Oregon alone.

We appreciate your continued passion for and action for seabirds, and will keep fighting for this beautiful part of our legacy as Californians.

How you can help, right now