Unchecked Global Warming Would Have “Catastrophic” Effect on Global Fisheries

If climate change continues unchecked, fisheries production could decline by as much as 60 percent in parts of the world’s oceans in the coming centuries, according to a new study published in the journal Science, threatening food and economic security.

The unrestrained long-term warming that would be caused if nations fail to take action on climate change would flush oceans with cold water from melting ice sheets, the study found, disrupting marine currents and winds. As a result, nutrients would increasingly sink to greater depths, out of reach of most fish species, and plankton growth would decline. These are “cumulative, catastrophic effects that will be increasingly difficult to avoid with delayed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” the study says.

By 2300, these changes would cause global fishery yields to decline by an average 20 percent. More regionally, areas like the North Atlantic could see reductions of up to 60 percent. The research focused on temperature changes and did not look at other climate-related impacts that could affect marine life, such as ocean acidification.

“Marine ecosystems worldwide will be increasingly starved for nutrients,” lead author of the new study, Keith Moore of the University of California, Irvine, told Reuters.

The study is one of the first to look at the long-term health of fisheries in a warming world, well past the 2100 mark typically used when studying climate impacts.

“We need to be thinking 1,000 years into the future, not 100 years,” Moore said. “Global warming isn’t a problem our children can solve - it will be too late.”