A Q&A with Jack Igelman
What excited you about this project when you first learned of it
First off, I really love the North Carolina coast, like so many others who live in the state. Over the last couple of years, I’ve done some reporting on coastal issues, which revealed how little I actually knew about the ecology, economics and politics of the coast, including fisheries. So, having a chance to do a series of stories is an exciting opportunity to go deeper and explore the nuance of fisheries and their management in the context of a changing climate.
What’s new about the issue of extreme weather and climate change on the Carolina coast? What’s the good news? What’s the bad news?
First the bad news: sea levels are rising, the ocean is warming and there are other environmental concerns heightened by water quality, including more inland storms, changes in salinity, etc. … That's all possibly made worse by climate change. A key takeaway: The distribution of marine life is changing. However, that’s both good and bad since some species may leave North Carolina waters, but others will become abundant. What is encouraging to me is that level of brain power that is trying to understand the impacts of climate change on our coasts: the waters, marine life and the communities. I also see that governments, NGOs, fishers, and others with a stake in the well-being of our coast are beginning to look forward and have accepted that changes are here and life on the coast won’t be the same.
What was the first thing you did when you began to tackle this?
I made a bunch of calls and sent emails to my reporting contacts. On each call, I always ask who else I should speak to, which leads to more interviews. The impact of climate change on fisheries is an enormous topic, so it was a challenge to figure out how to organize the reporting as it progressed.
What was the most interesting thing you discovered during this reporting?
I had a pretty vague idea of the supply chain of what happens after a fish is caught, how it’s packed, where it goes, and how it gets to your plate. Some of it is common sense, but I think I typically take for granted where my food comes from. So spending time in a fish house was pretty educational.
Tell us a bit about the sources you consulted with for this work.
Lots of scientists. I see my strengths as a reporter in helping highlight and interpret what scientists have explored in the field and in their labs, and being able to explain it to people. I also spoke to economists, elected officials, educators and people who fish.
Why should our readers care about this issue?
I think it touches all of us in North Carolina, whether you enjoy fresh wild-caught seafood, you enjoy spending time on the coast, or just care about how climate change is impacting our state. We’re seeing the impact of climate change all over the state, but the ocean and the coast is an environment where we may see the biggest impacts first.
What questions did you need to ask to get this story?
You know, probably the most useful question I asked was always towards the end of an interview, which is: “What else do you think I should know about the topic that we haven’t discussed?” That usually turns over a few stones I didn’t imagine.
What roadblocks did you encounter as you reported this story?
This state is really big. Reporting from Asheville made it difficult. I made several trips to the coast while working on this project.
Did you witness any solutions to the issues that are plaguing coastal NC? If so, what were they?
Some great work is being done around coastal restoration, such as living shorelines. That’s really promising in dealing with erosion and water quality issues for example. Also, a certain level of collaboration among organizations is taking place, such as information-sharing and complex research. However, it’s interesting to see how people, such as commercial fisherman, are adapting to changes in biomass of certain species. Going back to the bad news, there is nothing we can do about, say, sea level rise. it's coming even if we completely alter our use of fossil fuels today. Therefore, many of the “solutions” are focused on understanding the science of the impacts of a warming climate and ways to adapt.
We realize that many public policy makers read our reporting. What do you hope they will take away from this series?
My goal in this reporting is to analyze and explain a really complicated set of issues to readers. My guess is that, while many people care deeply about coastal fisheries, they may not have the time or resources to sort it all out. That includes policy makers. I hope this gives them an opportunity to better grasp the complex social, ecological and economic issues connected to our coastal fisheries. Of course, the more people that understand the issue better, the more accountable our policy makers will be for wrong-headed decisions.
We know that Carolina Public Press always follows up on reporting series like this over time. What are some related issues that you’d like to explore in the future?
I think there’s a lot more to report on what’s happening year-to-year in our fisheries, since it's changing so fast. I’d love to report more on the human impact of climate change: it’s likely to be more consequential for our state’s economically vulnerable populations. That deserves additional attention.