Fishing Industry Must Adapt to the Profound Impacts of Climate Change

The fishing industry and governments need to urgently step up co-operation efforts to ensure the health and productivity of our oceans in the context of climate change. 

The landmark report published today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on climate change and our oceans, adds to the already mounting evidence of the profound impact that climate change is having and how this is impacting economies, businesses and communities that rely on fishing for livelihoods and nutrition. 

The report includes evidence of the shifting distribution of marine species across areas of hundreds of kilometres and changes in the structure of ecosystems, resulting in significant changes to potential seafood catch.  The MSC is seeing the impact of this with even some of the most well managed fisheries struggling to cope with stock fluctuations, in part due to climate change. 

For example, recent declines in North Sea cod stocks have been in attributed to fewer cod reaching maturity, in part as a result of climate change.  And changes in ocean dynamics have affected the distribution of mackerel in the North East Atlantic, driving the fish further north into cooler seas, resulting in challenges with the joint management of this stock. 

Hans Nieuwenhuis, Regional Director, Northern Europe at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) said:“The IPCC report demonstrates that progress towards sustainable fisheries management is now more urgent than ever before. Sustainable, well managed fisheries which have effective monitoring, regulation and management systems in place are more resilient and able to adapt to climate change. Yet globally governments and fisheries managers are already struggling to reach consensus on how to manage ocean resources in a way which reflects the new reality of changing climates. 

“Taking a precautionary approach to setting catches and evolving fishing practices to reflect changing scientific advice and migration patterns is not easy but it must be done if we are to continue to enjoy the plentiful seafood and preserve marine life.

“Fisheries that meet the MSC’s international standards for sustainability, representing 15% global seafood catch, show that this can be done. These fisheries balance economic and environmental priorities to safeguard our oceans and seafood supplies. However, climate change threatens to undermine these hard efforts if international consensus and responses cannot be found.” 

International cooperation is vital

The suspension of MSC certification of North East Atlantic mackerel earlier this year demonstrates the challenge in reaching international consensus on managing fishing stocks that are moving across geopolitical boundaries. 

Following the rapid change in the distribution of mackerel since 2007, coastal states have been unable to agree catch quotas in line with scientific advice.  To resolve this issue, the mackerel fisheries have committed to delivering an effective harvest strategy and well-defined harvest control rules by mid-2020. The MSC is working with partners to support these efforts and encourage a resolution to the dispute.

“The situation of the North East Atlantic mackerel is a demonstration of the urgent need for international cooperation and agreement if fisheries are to continue to fish sustainably and adapt to climate change,”says Nieuwenhuis.