POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Climate Change and Fisheries

Published Thursday, June 27, 2019

Fishing is dependent on marine food webs that are sensitive to overexploitation and climate change. This POSTnote focuses on marine fisheries, including wild capture and farming (aquaculture) of fin- and shellfish, and their processing. It summarises impacts on oceans and fisheries of changes including ocean warming, acidification, deoxygenation and storms, and explores how fisheries may adapt.

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Picture of Harbour, Fishing Boats and Nets

Fisheries depend on healthy, productive marine ecosystems, including the communities of organisms and their environment. Marine fishing and aquaculture exploit these ecosystems to provide 11% of global average animal protein intake, and demand for fish products is expected to rise over coming decades. However, wild-capture and aquaculture fisheries are vulnerable to climate change, including ocean warming, acidification, deoxygenation and storms. Climate change directly affects the distribution, abundance and health of wild fish, and the viability of aquaculture processes and stocks. Climate change also compounds other pressures arising from human activities, such as overfishing, further affecting fisheries’ environmental and economic sustainability. 

The extent to which fisheries can meet the increasing demand for fish products will depend on the management of the entire industry, its environmental impact, and its ability to adapt to climate change. Improving fisheries management and preventing overfishing can build ecosystem and stock resilience to climate change impacts, conserving marine ecosystems while increasing long-term yields, profits and benefits  

Key points in this POSTnote include: 

  • Climate change drives changes in marine ecosystems that affect fisheries’ productivity and food security.  
  • The marine environment is experiencing increasing temperatures, acidification and deoxygenation. 
  • These changes are altering the distribution, abundance and health of commercial fish species, and the marine ecosystems on which they depend. 
  • Climate change and other stressors interact to affect ecosystems and fisheries. 
  • Fisheries’ adaptation to climate change impacts is hampered by a lack of targeted vulnerability assessments and uncertainty in the impacts on commercial fisheries. 
  • Improving fisheries management and preventing overfishing will help maintain fisheries’ long-term productivity. 

Acknowledgements 

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including: 

Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop, University of Plymouth* 

Alistair Carmichael, Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland 

Dr Ana Queirós, Plymouth Marine Laboratory* 

Andrew Clayton, The Pew Charitable Trusts* 

Dr Angus Garrett, Seafish* 

Dr Bryce Stewart, University of York* 

Dr Bryony Townhill, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science* 

Dr Carl O’Brien CBE, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science & Defra 

Dr Coby Needle, Marine Scotland 

Dr R. Colin Bannister, Shellfish Association of Great Britain 

Prof. Colin Moffat, Chief Scientific Adviser Marine, Scottish Government* 

Dale Rodmell, National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations 

Dr Eleni Papathanasopoulou, Plymouth Marine Laboratory* 

Elizabeth Bourke, National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations 

Dr Eva Plaganyi-Lloyd, Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation* 

Dr Ewen Bell, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science* 

Prof. Gretta Pecl, University of Tasmania* 

Prof. Jason Holt, National Oceanography Centre* 

Jim Masters, Fishing into the Future* 

Dr John Pinnegar, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science* 

Dr Johnny Briggs, The Pew Charitable Trusts* 

Dr Jonathan Tinker, Met Office* 

Dr Katherine Maltby, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science* 

Dr Kieran Hyder, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science 

Dr Matthew Frost, Marine Biological Association* 

Prof. Mike Elliott, University of Hull 

Nigel Sainsbury, University of Exeter 

Prof. Richard Barnes, University of Hull 

Dr Robert Thorpe, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science 

Prof. Rosa Barciela, Met Office 

Dr Selina Stead, Marine Management Organisation & University of Stirling 

Dr Silvana Birchenough, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science 

Dr Steve Mackinson, Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association* 

Dr Tara Marshall, University of Aberdeen 

*Denotes people who acted as external reviewers of the briefing 

POSTnotes POST-PN-0604

Authors: Jonathan Wentworth; James Stewart

Topics: Climate change, Fisheries, Marine environment

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.