Climate change and fish — Marine Stewardship Council
Personal tools
Log in

Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

You are here: Home Healthy oceans The oceans today Climate change and fish

Climate change and fish

Our oceans and fish stocks are under threat from rising water temperatures.
A 2015 study from WWF finds that climate change is one of the main reasons for the decline of marine species in the last 30 years.

3 billion people rely on fish as their major source of protein. Fish and aquaculture assure the livelihoods of 12% of the world’s population, creating economic benefits of US$ 2.9 trillion per year.

The decline of fish stocks directly impacts the diets and livelihoods of many communities. These changes affect fisheries worldwide, but the impacts are likely to be particularly damaging for fisheries in developing countries.

What does climate change mean for the oceans?

Climate change caused by increasing greenhouse gas emissions is causing the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere to increase [1]. As the air temperature rises, oceans absorb some of this heat and become warmer.

How does climate change affect fish and fisheries?

  • Ocean acidification [2], caused by increasing levels of carbon dioxide, negatively impacts many marine organisms such as shellfish, crabs, lobsters and corals by making it more difficult for them to build calcium carbonate shells. This diminishes their stock and – in the case of corals – destroys the habitat many species need to thrive.
  • Some species can only thrive in certain habitats [3]. As the oceans warm up, the ideal water temperature for these species shifts, and fish stock will diminish or move to different areas, destroying local fishing communities.
  • Extreme, unpredictable weather with heavy storms and rainfall can damage coastal ecosystems and communities as well as coral reefs.
  • Rising sea levels will cover wetlands and other low lying habitats where fish reproduce, and destroy mangroves, the nurseries for many commercially important fish species.

Why is sustainable fishing important in a time of climate change?

  • Helping fishers adapt: Sustainable, well managed fisheries, such as those in the MSC program, will be well-positioned to adapt to climate change. MSC certified fisheries must account for climate change in their management plans.
  • Feeding a hungry world: Healthy, renewable food from fisheries will become more important as agriculture suffers from drought and other impacts of climate change.

Find out about sustainable fishing >

Where to buy MSC labelled sustainable seafood

[1] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

[2] NOAA: What is Ocean Acidification?

[3] Nature: Future fish distributions constrained by depth in warming seas

Document Actions