We can rebuild global fisheries despite warming oceans

Swift action on climate change and fisheries management can produce more fish, food and income

Report published August 2018
Previous research published February 2016

Tackling sustainable fisheries management and climate change together can result in significant increases of fish, food and economic activity. This according to a first-of-its kind study published in Science Advances.

By 2100, the study shows that compared to today, estimated future outcomes include:

  • $14 billion US dollars increase in fishing profits,
  • 25 billion additional servings of seafood and
  • 217 million more metric tons of fish in the sea.

These benefits depend on if we can meet the imperative of the Paris Climate Accord—ensuring global temperatures don’t rise beyond 2° C, and put the right measures of cooperative fisheries management in place today. Inaction on fisheries management and climate change will mean net losses of fish as the planet’s population grows.

A dozen leading scientists from institutions including the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and Hokkaido University conducted the research. It is the first study to examine future fishery outcomes under both climate change projections and alternative management approaches, and demonstrates that our oceans can be highly productive for decades to come if nations act quickly and in coordination to fix current problems and limit new impacts.

Key findings

People have the power to change the future: Billions of people around the world who rely on healthy oceans and fisheries for food and livelihoods can see increases in fish, food and prosperity. In order to realize these benefits, people must work quickly and collaboratively to limit carbon emissions and adopt sustainable and adaptive fisheries management.

We have a narrow window of opportunity to tackle both climate and sustainable fisheries: Failure to adapt to a changing climate soon will likely result in declining fish populations, increased conflict between nations as fish move out of their usual grounds and reduced ability to feed a growing human population.

Fish movement threatens to exacerbate global hunger: Many fish will respond to warming waters by shifting away from the equator, towards the poles and further offshore. This means that equatorial nations, many of which have developing economies and are highly dependent on seafood as a source of food and income, will be hardest hit. We must anticipate these changes and build in policies to protect the people who can least afford to deal with loss of nutrition and income.

The amount the planet warms matters: The amount of warming we experience by 2100 will make a big difference in whether global fisheries can see gains in fish, food and prosperity. If we can limit warming to 2° C, all three of these benefits can be realized for fishing communities. If we fail to do so, however, and warming exceeds 4° C, we will see a decrease globally in our ability to produce food and prosperity from our oceans.

Media contact

Matthew Smelser (202) 572-3272 (office)
(512) 731-3023 (cell)
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