The Beacon

New Study: Climate Change Threatens Global Fisheries

As world leaders prepare for international climate change negotiations next week in Durban, South Africa, a new study out this week depicts the widespread threats that climate change presents for marine fisheries.

The bottom line? Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are presenting very long-term if not irreversible threats for the oceans.

Economists and top fisheries scientists at the University of British Columbia published a paper on Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change that outlines the many challenges fisheries face from climate change, and how this can impact the global economy and hundreds of millions of lives. 

Global marine fisheries are underperforming, mainly from rampant overfishing, but climate change also creates several serious threats to the future productivity of fisheries. These chemical and physical changes linked to climate change such as decreased oxygen levels, changes in plankton communities and plant growth, altered ocean circulation and increased acidity can disrupt the basic functioning of marine ecosystems and thwart any potential recovery of global fish stocks. 

The study outlines how impacts can scale up from changing ocean conditions to the global economy, but the authors note that the true scope of impacts to employment are hard to predict.

Current examples of large changes such as El Niño already create serious impacts to fisheries and revenues around the world. Under climate change scenarios these types of ocean-wide changes could become more extreme and continue to shift the distribution of some fish species and marine resources towards the poles, impacting the cost of catching fish and taking away vital food sources from people that need it most in small island developing countries.

In order for wild fisheries to withstand climate change we need to tackle big issues like overfishing and greenhouse gas emissions at the same time, and there are policy solutions that exist for both that we should all fight for.

Oceana is trying to get the word out about climate change threats to the oceans that are often overlooked. Negotiators from around the world are meeting from November 28th to December 9th at the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP-17) to discuss the reshaping of the Kyoto Protocol, and to continue to develop global solutions to the problem of climate change.

Oceana is hosting a collaborative booth at the conference alongside Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD, MedSea and EPOCA that will engage top marine scientists with foreign negotiators to describe the threats that climate change and ocean acidification present for marine life and ocean based resources.

Matt Huelsenbeck is a marine scientist at Oceana.


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