Climate Feedback

A place at the table?

fisheriesInternational organizations are calling for fisheries to be included in a new global deal on climate change.

Earlier this week, a consortium of 16 organizations including the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank and the WorldFish Center issued a policy brief to delegates meeting in Bonn from June 1-12 for the latest round of UN climate talks.

Their key message was outlined in a Commentary by two of the authors of the brief published May 28 on Nature Reports Climate Change. Nick Dulvy, Canadian Research Chair in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, and Eddie Allison, director of the WorldFish Center in Penang, Malaysia, argue that climate impacts represent a serious threat to those who depend on fisheries and aquaculture resources both for protein and as a source of income.

While agriculture and freshwater resources have featured prominently in climate policy discussions, the future of fisheries resources has been largely ignored, write Dulvy and Allison. Yet, one third of the world’s 6 billion people rely on fish and other aquatic products for at least one-fifth of their annual protein intake, and more than 36 million people worldwide are employed in the fisheries and aquaculture sector.

And with little ability to diversify to other modes of employment or to adapt to change, those in the developing world will be hardest hit as fish migration routes and spawning and feeding grounds change from those that fishers have learnt to harvest. Fishing communities will also suffer indirectly as extreme events such as floods and hurricanes become more frequent.

African and southeast Asian nations face a double jeopardy, say Dulvy and Allison, as they are highly vulnerable to climate effects on both their fisheries and agriculture sectors. A recent analysis by Dulvy, Allison and collaborators showed that of 33 nations identified as being most vulnerable to climate impacts on their fisheries sectors, 19 are among the world’s least developed countries.


Three countries in particular – Sierra Leone, Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – have the highest national vulnerability to climate impacts on fisheries and ‘extremely alarming’ global hunger indices. Dulvy and Allison argue that these nations deserve the greatest support for adaptation and development to face off against these challenges.

Both the policy brief and the commentary outline a series of policy and research priorities that would enable the fisheries sector to both adapt to change and contribute to mitigation measures. In short, some of these include reducing overcapacity in the global fishing fleet, maintaining larger stock sizes, achieved in part by reducing subsidies that artificially sustain the profitability of dangerously depleted fisheries, evaluating carbon sequestration in marine ecosystems, and bolstering the adaptive capacity of adaptive capacity of these nations. The latter would of course rely on the availability of sufficient adaptation funding, another topic on the table this week in Bonn.

Olive Heffernan

Image: iStockphoto

Figure: The vulnerability of national economies to potential climate change impacts on fisheries. Vulnerability was calculated on the basis of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity, assuming slowly increasing global emissions (scenario B2 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Colours represent quartiles, with dark brown for the upper quartile (highest vulnerability), yellow for the lowest quartile and grey where no data were available. From Allison, E. H. et al. Fish Fisheries 10, 173 (2009).


  1. Report this comment

    Phil said:

    There’s surely a typo in this post’s title.

    It should read “A plaice at the table?”

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    Peter Hancock said:

    There is plenty of evidence for devastation of fish stocks but this has nothing to do with the miniscule change in GMST so far measured. The best advice for poor fishing communities is to keep factory trawlers out of their fishing grounds – politics not CO2 emissions is the problem.

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