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Climate change is undermining efforts to fish sustainably. The MSC is carrying out research to identify fisheries and regions where predicted climate impacts threaten their ability to meet MSC benchmarks for sustainable management. The project aims to:

  • Analyse more than 500 MSC certified and suspended fisheries worldwide to identify governance vulnerabilities to climate change.
  • Ensure climate-resilient fisheries management measures are incentivised through the MSC certification program.

Funded by:

MSC Ocean Stewardship Fund

Start date

1 October, 2022

Key partners

Common Oceans Tuna Project of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN FAO)

The research challenge

Fisheries face growing challenges to operate sustainably as our climate becomes more variable and extreme. Changes in water temperatures and seasonality are increasingly disrupting ecosystems, altering the distribution of fish stocks and impacting the growth, development and survival of many marine species.

These changes highlight weaknesses in existing management measures and monitoring systems. The inability to adapt and respond to climate change can increase the risk of overfishing, biodiversity loss, and conflict between fishing nations.

Once conflicts or mismanagement concerns emerge, it can be difficult, costly and slow for fishery managers and other stakeholders to agree on and implement solutions. This can lead to fisheries no longer meeting the sustainability requirements of the MSC Fisheries Standard.

The solution

To ensure fisheries become more resilient to climate change we need to understand where issues are likely to arise and the severity of their respective impacts. We also need to incentivise adoption of best practice management measures.

To achieve this, the MSC is carrying out the ‘Assessment of Risks posed by Climate Change’ project (ARC), led by MSC Principal Scientist Dr Katie Longo, with support from climate change analyst Lauren Koerner.

The study will evaluate vulnerability to climate change in fisheries currently certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard, fisheries working towards certification and those that have been suspended from the MSC program. This includes over 500 fisheries, representing approximately 19% of global wild catch.

The project, which is supported by the MSC’s Ocean Stewardship Fund and the FAO Common Oceans Tuna Project, will assess fisheries' level of exposure and sensitivity to threats, and the degree of resilience afforded by the governance capacity.

In the first phase, the project will focus on the threats posed by the shifting distribution of fish stocks across management boundaries, and projected changes such as the overall abundance of predators and prey throughout the ecosystem. Data from publicly available MSC assessment and pre-assessment reports will be used to evaluate fishery governance capacity.

In its second phase, the project will consider additional climate-driven impacts, and will use these results to evaluate vulnerabilities in the sustainable seafood trade.

What are the impacts?

The findings will be summarised in a map of fisheries whose ability to meet the MSC Fisheries Standard may be at risk due to climate change.

This will help identify how the MSC can work with stakeholders to incentivise best practice in climate resilience through our Standard, particularly in regions and fisheries predicted to be most at risk.

The study may also identify areas where our Standard could be adapted and help accelerate progress in areas where scientific best practice is not established.

Research partners and collaborations

The MSC is working with key partners to build on their existing studies of global climate change threats, including Palacios-Abrantes et al., (2022) and Tittensor et al., (2021).

The project has benefited from support provided by the Common Oceans Tuna Fisheries Project, which is funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and implemented by FAO.

The MSC will also co-host a session on “Managing fisheries in a world of shifting stocks, integrating biological, policy, behavioural, social and economic aspects” at the World Fisheries Congress in 2024. We hope to use this opportunity to foster further collaborations in this field.