Russia creates action plan to respond to challenges of climate change

Published on
February 11, 2022
A Russian fishing vessel moves through ice-covered water.

Russia’s Ministry for Agriculture has published a new document outlining steps to mitigate the risks posed to the country’s agricultural and seafood industries by climate change.

Russian companies and scientists are already seeing the consequences of warming waters and ocean acidification, according to Russian Minister of Agriculture Dmitry Partushev. In a speech at a session of the International Agriculture Forum in late 2021, Partushev said climate change has become a top-priority issue for the food industry and that a comprehensive action plan was badly needed to coordinate the government to tackle its challenges.

Climate change is of particular interest for Russia, given its vast geography and biodiversity – ranging from the Arctic to subtropic areas included in its borders – and with temperatures rising in Russian faster than most other areas of the globe. Russia has been warming by 0.47 degrees Celsius on average annually since the mid 1990s to today – over twice as fast as the planetary average, according to the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring. 

Russia’s Institute for Global Climate and Ecology show said2021 was the hottest in Russia on record, with the prior record being set in 2020. Previous highs were set in 2015, 2017, and 2019. In 2021, the annual average temperature in the city of Vladivostok, in Russia's Far East, was 6.2 Celsius degrees – nearly 1.3 degrees above average.

The biggest climate-based changes, however, are in Russia's Arctic and sub-Arctic seas, particularly the Barents Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Bering Sea – which also account for 70 percent of Russia’s annual wild-caught seafood.

The  Climate Change Adaptation Plan, adopted on 30 December and published in January 2022, identifies how rising temperatures and ocean acidification are having a significant impact on Russia's seafood industry.

Declining oxygen content, a changing and less-predictable schedule of warm and cold seasons, rising sea levels, and other climate-related factors are resulting in a decrease in Russia's seafood productivity. 

The climate plan does not contain direct actionable items or edicts, but rather focuses on consultations to be held across government bodies and scientific institutes to design concrete steps to be taken in the future. Regarding seafood, central to the plan is an analysis of the existing threats, an evaluation of the consequences of climate change on the industry, and identifying possible solutions or mitigation strategies to address the problems created by the warming climate. 

Climate change is already changing the country’s fisheries. In 2020, a new stock of opilio crab was discovered by Russian scientists in the Kara Sea, an area the species had previously never been fished commercially. However, expeditions confirmed the stock is now large enough to harvest, and in 2021, nearly 1,000 metric tons (MT) were added to the country’s total allowable catch.

Pollock, too, has traveled to new areas. In 2018, TINRO, the Pacific branch of the Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO), researched the Chukchi Sea and found a larger-than-expected stock of pollock there. In 2019, Chukchi pollock population by a multiple of 50 compared with its 2018 level.

Oleg Borilko, head of the 2018 expedition, said that pollock could be migrating from the Bering Sea due to increasing water temperatures and the acceleration of ice melt during the summer. In 2022, new Chukchi pollock quotas will be auctioned, according to Russia's Fishery Agency. 

Warmer waters also impacted the 2021 pelagic season, TINRO said in its report. According to Dmitry Antonenko, TINRO’s leading fisheries specialist, in July and August, sardine and mackerel traveled north to the waters near the Kamchatka peninsula, which at the time was considered an anomaly. 

The same phenomenon is being seen in salmon behavior. The World Wildlife Fund said in a press release that the Amur River, a fertile breeding ground for the species, was “extraordinarily warm,” causing salmon to leave its waters and move north.

“Catch of salmon has been increasing in the waters of Chukotka Peninsula,” WWF said.

The impacts of climate change are also shown through the sudden unreliability of time-tested scientific models for salmon harvests. In 2020, relying on historical models, scientists forecast a robust salmon season, but it fell well short of projections. VNIRO attributed the difference between the forecast and the result to a longtime weather anomaly that caused northern stocks of salmon to move westward looking for a more comfortable habitat. Hotter waters negatively impacted the size of plankton and its oil content, thus reducing and degrading the salmon's primary foodsource. Commercially, the poor forecast resulted in calls for a new approach to forecasting future salmon seasons.

Additionally, in 2020, a red tide phenomenon was blamed for the mass death of marine life in Kamchatka’s waters, the first such instance recorded. Tests by scientists led to the conclusion that warming waters were to blame.

The disaster led Kamchatka Governor Vladimir Solodov to order the establishment of a new scientific center to study climate change. The goal of the center is to help local seafood companies predict and react to environmental changes that may affect their fishing, in a region that supplies the majority of Russia’s total seafood catch and which is economically dependent on the sector. 

Photo courtesy of Alexandr Soloviev/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from Saint Petersburg, Russia

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