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Global Warming Impact on World Fisheries

Global Warming Impact on World Fisheries

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04/01/2011

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Many fisheries are known to be profoundly controlled by climate variability through ecological
impacts (e.g. Box 5). Meanwhile, long-term climate-related changes have been observed in marine
ecosystems (IPCC, 2007) including in targeted fish populations. However, in spite of the ecological
changes that have been recorded, impacts on fisheries have largely yet to be discerned from pre-
existing variability and non-climate impacts (of overexploitation, market fluctuations etc.). Even
fisheries associated with coral reefs that have been profoundly impacted by climate change have yet to
demonstrate a significant impact (see Box 6). Although a lowering of ocean pH of 0.1 unit has been
observed since 1750, no significant impacts of acidification on fisheries have yet been observed
(Nicholls et al., 2007b) although long-term forecasts are alarming (Orr et al., 2005).

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BOX 5.

The impacts of climate variability on Peruvian Anchoveta fisheries

More than 95 percent of Peruvian fisheries catches, which are dominated by pelagic resources such as anchovies
(Engraulis ringens), are landed by the industrial sector (Majluf et al., 2005). Additionally, the sector is the
second highest generator of foreign currency after mining, accounting for US$1.124 million in exports in 2001
(FAO, 2003b). However, the harvest of anchovies is extremely variable because of population fluctuations
induced by warm modes of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), commonly known as El Niño. El Niño
events reduce upwelling along the Peruvian coast, thereby impacting on the natural process that provides
nutrients for the anchovies and causing a significant decrease in anchovy biomass. During the 1998 El Niño the
anchovy biomass was estimated at 1.2 million tonnes, the lowest in the 1990s (Ñiquen and Bouchon, 2004).
During the 1997 to 1998 El Niño, total volumes of fisheries landings decreased by 55 percent compared to 1996
(CAF, 2000). It is estimated that the direct cost to the fisheries sector was 73.7 million Peruvian soles (PEN) or
US$26.3 million (1998 exchange rate), with a negative effect on the country’s balance of payments of around
PEN8.4 million (CAF, 2000). Because Peru is the main producer of fish meal and fish oil in the world,
fluctuations of anchovy stocks not only have an impact at national level but also on the global aquaculture feed
market.

While the industrial fishery sector was adversely affected by the reduced stock of anchovies and sardines in
the eastern Pacific upwelling areas, fisher folk in Denmark received near record prices for Baltic sprat, a
competing species for fishmeal production (MacKenzie and Visser, 2001). And climate variability in Peru is not
always synonymous with negative effects for the fishmeal industry; La Niña events (cooling of sea surface
temperatures) have led to increased catches of anchovies and revenues for the industrial sector (Ordinola, 2002).

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117

Coastal zones throughout the world are experiencing erosion (Nicholls et al., 2007b), threatening
coastal communities with flooding and loss of coastal ecosystems. A variety of processes are
responsible for this, including changes in land use. However, erosion may also be exacerbated by
climate-mediated sea level rise, although the complexity of coastal dynamics makes it difficult to
isolate the impact of climate change (Nicholls et al., 2007b).

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BOX 6.

Coral bleaching impacts on fisheries in the western Indian Ocean

Coral bleaching is a biological phenomenon in which stony corals and related organisms, lose the symbiotic
algae normally found in their tissues as a result of stress (including unusually high water temperatures). As a
result, the corals appear white; they may recover but can die if bleaching is severe or prolonged. Coral reefs in
the western Indian Ocean region experienced very severe bleaching and mortality because of the El Niño of 1998
to 1999 and were bleached again in 2005. Inner reefs of the Seychelles showed severe ecological consequences.
Live coral cover dropped from 27 percent to three percent, and coral-feeding fish species disappeared (Graham

et al., 2006). However, fisheries landing statistics and surveys of the biomass of targeted species have yet to
demonstrate the impact of the bleaching (Grandcourt and Cesar 2003; Graham et al., 2007). This may be because
fish habitats were still provided by the structure of the dead corals. These have subsequently begun to erode,
leading to a loss of structure. Ecological studies undertaken in 2005 found a reduced abundance of small fish.
This may indicate a time lag in the impacts of bleaching on commercially important fish, with the erosion of
dead corals eventually affecting recruitment of commercially important fish species (Graham et al., 2007).

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