Making Fisheries a Part of Climate Talks

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December’s UN climate conference, known as COP25, was intended to highlight for the first time climate’s impact on oceans, with the original host country Chile billing it as the “Blue COP.” That focus failed to fully materialize after the talks were moved to Madrid due to Chile’s unrest. However, the conference did produce a commitment from 39 countries to include oceans in their national climate commitments, and there were calls for ocean adaptation and mitigation to play a greater role in this year’s COP26 in Glasgow. 

The inclusion of ocean impacts in global climate talks is much-needed. Our recent brief communication to Nature Sustainability highlights one such impact that has so far received little attention in climate discussions: the projected exit of fish species from many countries due to climate-driven range shifts. As with so many other climate impacts, our research finds that tropical countries will be the most heavily impacted. Modeling range shifts under two climate scenarios, we find that the tropical countries stand to lose, on average, between 7% and 40% of fish species that were present in 2012.

While transboundary stocks have always required cooperation, the potential for permanent loss of fish populations from countries challenges conventional fishery management mechanisms. This is particularly true for tropical nations that can expect no new fish species entering to replace the ones they lose, and little incentive to preserve the resource as it exits. It is for this reason we suggest in the paper that they may be best viewed through the lens of loss and damages from climate change, a framework which has been developed in previous COPs, but has not previously been applied to fisheries. This realization was a central insight behind our paper, and helped to motivate us to publish it in time for stakeholders to consider it before the next round of climate talks. 

Kimberly Lai Oremus

Assistant Professor, University of Delaware