Climate crisis threatens half of global fish production | WWF
Climate crisis threatens half of global fish production

Posted on 16 October 2020

On World Food Day, WWF calls for action for sustainable fisheries as climate change accelerates
Half of the world's fish production is at risk due to the climate crisis, warns a new report from WWF, Agrocampus Ouest (France), University of British Columbia (Canada), Charles Darwin Foundation (Galapagos) and Instituto Nacional de Pesca (Ecuador). This is because small-scale fishers, who account for half of the world's fish production, are disproportionately affected by the consequences of a warmer ocean. The study reveals that the total number of fish could shrink by up to 40% in some tropical regions by 2100, due to climate impacts. 

As over 60% of the EU’s seafood is imported, much of it from nations whose fisheries are already experiencing the adverse impacts of an overfished and warmer ocean, impacts to the EU seafood market could be dire. The EU must ensure that fish products are traceable to verify the legality and sustainability of seafood products in order to not inadvertently fuel illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in exporting countries. Better and more effective monitoring and control of fishing activities, together with investment in better equipment and scientific data are essential. 

Katrin Vilhelm Poulsen, Senior Seafood Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office, said: “Less fish means less food and less income for people whose livelihoods are tied to our seas. All Member States and industry stakeholders must intensify efforts for sustainable fisheries and management of our ocean. Implementing legal frameworks in the face of accelerating climate change is crucial if the EU hopes to deliver on the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies, as well as to meet its international commitments to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

The report’s case studies show that small-scale fishers in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, South Africa and the Philippines are already badly affected by declining catches. This can be due either to reduced fish stocks or to changes in where fish are found as species move further away from the coast or into deeper, cooler waters where they are no longer accessible by small-scale fishing gear.

The study shows that climate change has significant negative consequences for the majority of fish species caught by small-scale fishers, including some of the most commercially important species like sardines, anchovies and tuna. However, it has already been estimated that globally sustainable fisheries management could actually increase the amount of fish in the ocean by 60%, but only if global warming is kept within the limit of 1.5°C. Immediate action is required to steer both oceanic and social scenarios to more thriving and resilient outcomes. 

The report concludes that if the sector fails to adapt to the changes it has already started to face, it will collapse. The socio-economic consequences are unprecedented, from shrinking incomes as fish stocks decline and increased risks to personal safety as fishers must travel further to find fish in seas with increasing extreme weather conditions, to consumers worldwide no longer able to access key sources of protein. 

Poulsen concluded: "With a growing global population, we will need more marine resources than ever before. This cannot be met under the current circumstances. Shifting to sustainable management of fish stocks, with effective controls on fishing activities, transparent supply chains and traceable products is critical. Only truly sustainable seafood can help ensure conservation of the ecosystems and species which support the livelihoods of 800 million people around the world and keep some of our favourite food items on our dinner plates."

Larissa Milo-Dale
Senior Marine Communications Officer
+32 483 26 20 86
Small outrigger boat with fisherman pulling up a newly caught yellowfin tuna by hook and line.
© Jürgen Freund / WWF