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Climate Change Threatens Global Fish Stocks with Up to 30% Decline in High-Emissions Scenario, FAO Report Finds

A new FAO report warns that climate change could reduce exploitable fish biomass by over 10% globally by mid-century and by 30% or more in 48 countries under a high-emissions scenario, but stabilizes losses to 10% or less in 178 countries under a low-emissions scenario.

Saurabh Shukla
Climate Change Threatens Global Fish Stocks with Up to 30% Decline in High-Emissions Scenario, FAO Report Finds (Photo Source: Pexels)
Climate Change Threatens Global Fish Stocks with Up to 30% Decline in High-Emissions Scenario, FAO Report Finds (Photo Source: Pexels)

A recent report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations underscores significant climate risks to fish populations worldwide, including key producer countries and regions heavily dependent on aquatic foods.

The report, titled "Climate change risks to marine ecosystems and fisheries: Projections to 2100," reveals global projections indicating more than a 10 percent decline in exploitable fish biomass by mid-century, particularly under a high-emissions scenario. This scenario anticipates global warming of 3–4.0 °C, leading to declines of 30 percent or more in 48 countries and territories by the century's end.

Conversely, under a low-emissions scenario, with projected global warming of 1.5–2 °C, changes stabilize, showing no more than a 10 percent decline across 178 countries and territories by the end of the century.

The report highlights substantial declines for leading fish-producing nations under high-emissions scenarios, with Peru and China experiencing decreases of 37.3 percent and 30.9 percent respectively in their Exclusive Economic Zones. However, these figures stabilize under the low-emissions scenario.

Produced by the Ecosystem Model Intercomparison Project (FishMIP), an international network of researchers working with FAO, the report uses advanced numerical models to understand the long-term impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems and fisheries. It was released during the Thirty-sixth session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI36), held from July 8 to 12, 2024, at FAO headquarters in Rome.

Manuel Barange, FAO Assistant Director-General and Director of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Division, emphasized the importance of understanding climate change impacts on marine ecosystems for designing effective adaptation programs. He noted that lower emissions significantly reduce biomass losses for nearly all countries and territories by the end of the century, highlighting the benefits of climate change mitigation measures for fisheries and aquatic foods.

The report also shows that Small Island Developing States, heavily reliant on fisheries for food and income, benefit markedly from reduced emissions. For instance, the low-emissions scenario averts 68–90 percent of extreme end-of-century losses projected under high emissions for countries like the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.

To support FAO’s Blue Transformation vision of more resilient, equitable, and sustainable aquatic food systems, the report suggests that future FishMIP research should include other ocean and coastal uses beyond fisheries.  

This holistic approach aims to inform trade-offs across sectors and align with the FAO Strategy on Climate Change and its Action Plan, addressing linkages with freshwater and terrestrial resources to support policy directions at the nexus of climate change, biodiversity, water and food security, and health.

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