Village anglers to commercial fleets could see a combined annual loss of more than 7 million tons of fish by the end of this century if global warming continues unabated, according to a report published Thursday in the journal Science.
The study is the latest in a growing body of work that seeks to quantify the economic and health risks associated with climate change.
In their new report, the authors said world leaders can avoid massive disruption of the the planet’s fisheries by limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels — the target called for in the Paris accord on climate change that was formulated last year.
“Moving forward is actually persuading the countries and even the private sector to achieve” that goal, said William Cheung, the study’s lead author and a professor at the University of British Columbia who studies fisheries management.
The authors project that for every Celsius degree of warming Earth experiences, fish catches could drop by more than 3 million metric tons a year. Around the world, the amount of fish caught per year currently totals about 109 million tons.
In 2015, the planet was on average 1 degree Celsius warmer than preindustrial levels — the first time it reached that milestone, according to NASA.
The forecasted impacts of global warming won’t be felt evenly, climate experts have said.
As the planet warms, fish will migrate to cooler habitats. Places where people have the least ability to adapt to these shifts will be affected the most, scientists said.
For example, the new report found that fishing communities in the South Pacific could see as much as a 40 percent decrease in fish catches by the turn of the century.
“Regionally, we’ll also see these winners and losers,” Cheung said. “If you look at the salmon fisheries off the coast of California, we know some of the stocks are doing really badly with particularly warmer temperatures. For fishermen up in Alaska, the salmon runs are going much stronger.”
Climate change also could expand fishing territory in the Arctic if there’s dramatic melting of the sea ice there, and Cheung said this in turn could create conflicts if commercial fleets increasingly move into the region and raise competition with local subsistence anglers.
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