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May 19, 2020

Climate-adaptive fisheries management can yield higher catches and profits for fishers

A diver swims with the sardines in Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines.
Ferdinand Edralin


When it comes to the relationship between climate change and fisheries, there’s good news and there’s bad news. The bad news is that climate change is expected to reduce the amount of fish that can be responsibly removed from the ocean – a cut-off point known as the maximum sustainable yield, or MSY (check out the video above to learn more).

Some parts of the world are already suffering the consequences. East Asia has seen MSY declines of up to 34%, and West Africa is expected to be hit the hardest in the future, with projected MSY reductions of 50 to 100%. In other words, if we don’t act soon, a warmer and more acidic ocean will mean smaller and fewer fish for people to catch and to eat.

The good news is that climate-adaptive fisheries management can both mitigate these harmful effects and help restore oceans to their former abundance. According to a recent study led by Christopher Free at the University of California, Santa Barbara, management reforms can increase cumulative catches and profits in nearly all of the 156 countries that were evaluated.

Researchers looked at how five different types of fisheries management would perform under three different climate scenarios. The benefits of climate-adaptive management were clear in all but the worst-case climate scenario, which is characterized by high greenhouse gas emissions and temperature increases of about 3.7 degrees Celsius (6.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

If world leaders can successfully limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels – the goal outlined by the Paris Agreement – then it is possible to set the stage for more productive fisheries. The ideal form of fisheries management would be “perfect” adaptation to climate change, which would take the shifting ranges and productivity of fish into account, even as they move in and out of countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

However, most countries can still see higher catches and profits under more “realistic” scenarios, under which adaptations are made at “plausible” intervals of five, 10, or 20 years. “Fortunately, perfect fisheries management is not necessary to achieve these benefits,” the researchers write in their study.

Oceana advocates for science-based fisheries management in nine countries and the European Union, which together control about 30% of the world’s wild fish catch. By mitigating threats and ensuring the long-term viability of important fisheries, we can provide a nutritious seafood meal to an additional 425 million people per day.

On the other hand, if the world continues to operate under a “business as usual” scenario, countries will continue to see their catches and profits plummet. The options are clearly laid out for us: It is now up to us to decide which one to choose.

To learn more about Oceana’s campaign for science-based catch limits, click here.