Protecting fish farms from extreme weather events

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Protecting fish farms from extreme weather events

This article provided AXA XL

During the winter months, fish farmers across Europe brace themselves for winter storms, which have a significant impact on the aquaculture market, damaging farms and causing the loss of valuable fish resources. Christian Flem, the manager claims AXA XL discusses some of the steps customers can take to minimize losses when storms hit.

Winter storms can have a major impact on the aquaculture industry. Storms of varying severity are inevitable during the winter months and fish farmers prepare themselves for storm damage and find ways to manage this risk.

When storms hit coastlines, especially in the Mediterranean where there are fewer fjords or islands to shelter farms from the force of the storm, they are exposed to the sea and the sea cages where the fish are raised can be damaged. Strong waves can completely crush a cage, and this damage can result in the killing or loss of fish resources. Often the fish survive the impact of the storm and are dispersed into the sea causing loss to the farmers.

Category 3 storm Gloria, which hit eastern Spain and southern France in January 2020, caused significant losses to many fish farmers, especially in Spain, the EU’s largest fishing industry.

Spain produces about 1.2 million tonnes of fish each year – both from aquaculture and wild fishing – and according to EU statistics, the most valuable stock is tuna, accounting for 33% of the value of fish sold.

Hurricane Gloria hit the east coast of Spain, causing the largest waves ever recorded in the Mediterranean, estimated at more than 13 meters. Storm defenses were breached at major ports and storm surges of up to 3 kilometers inland were reported in some places.

It is estimated that Spanish fish farms lost 50% of their production during Hurricane Gloria. Although fish farms in the region have bunds and cages built to withstand the harsh conditions, the intensity of the storm caused some heavy losses. Tuna on the beaches along the Spanish coast was estimated to be worth US$1 million. Although some fish escaped by splitting the nets under the force of the storm, countless fish died as the cages were crushed and the fish suffered from the effects of harsh water conditions and stress.

Along with the risk of fish dying from events like Hurricane Gloria, the risk of fish escapes is on the minds of fish farmers. Not only are those fish — and their value — lost to farms, but they can have a negative impact on wild fish populations. For example, if farmed salmon escape, they will try to migrate upstream, where they will mix with wild salmon populations and drive them out.

Managing loss

Fish farmers can try to protect themselves from the risk of losses due to winter storms. Conducting a risk assessment in advance will help you understand where potential flaws may lie. If storms are forecast, farmers can raise the cages with additional moorings, for example, to ensure access to equipment such as ships and cranes to quickly repair any damage after the storm subsides.

Another measure fish farmers can take to reduce risk before winter storms hit is to harvest a few tons of fish from each cage. On days with strong currents and tides, the nets “bag” and don’t hold their shape, meaning the fish have less room to swim. Early harvesting reduces the density of fish in cages, reducing the risk of fish rubbing against the net and each other, resulting in bacterial infection of wounds.

Fish farmers can also sell leftover stocks at market value to recoup some of the financial losses of fish that perish or escape during storms.

Winter storms have always been a concern for Europe’s fish farmers, but the impact of a changing climate has highlighted the potential frequency and intensity of storms and their impact on fish farms.

While severe weather can be volatile and difficult to prepare for, assessing this risk and taking steps to minimize the impact of storm damage to fisheries in advance will reduce the value of fish lost this winter.


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