Overfishing and climate change must be addressed to protect oceans

overfishing and climate change
© iStock/martinwimmer

A new report has found that the effects of overfishing and climate change, the two greatest current threats to ocean health, are closely linked.

The ‘Ending overfishing can mitigate impacts of climate change’ working paper, commissioned by sustainable fisheries campaign Our Fish and written by University of British Columbia scientists Dr Rashid Sumaila and Dr Travis Tai, notes that ‘overfishing and climate change are not mutually exclusive problems to be addressed separately’; and that preventing overfishing would act towards offsetting the destructive impact of climate change on the health of the world’s oceans.

Dr Sumaila, who will host a webinar on overfishing and climate change this afternoon, said: “A healthy person is more likely to survive an epidemic than a person who is less healthy, and because of overfishing we have severely weakened the ocean’s immune system. Ending overfishing now would strengthen the ocean, making it more capable of withstanding climate change and restoring marine ecosystems.”

The findings of the working paper include:

  • Overfishing and climate change pose the two greatest threats to ocean biodiversity and marine ecosystem health;
  • Changes to ecosystems incurred by global heating have a deleterious effect on fish populations, which is then exacerbated by excessive fishing practices;
  • The imposition by the EU of stricter limits on fishing quotas would both increase long term catch rates and act as a mitigating influence on the impacts of climate change; and
  • Climate change and overfishing are inextricably linked in terms of ocean health; and comprehensive action must be taken to address both threats.

Rebecca Hubbard, Programme Director of the Our Fish campaign said: “In light of the aspirations of the EU and its Member States for taking climate action, this paper makes clear that the first thing that EU decision makers must do is to end overfishing – and [they must] do so this year. Not only is ending overfishing by 2020 a legal obligation under the Common Fisheries Policy, and imperative for the future of EU fisheries and 250,000 jobs that depend on them, it will strengthen the ocean in the face of dangerous climate change. The ocean generates more than half the oxygen we breathe and buffers us against the worst impacts of dangerous climate change, but overfishing undermines its capacity to perform these critical jobs. The EU can deliver a stronger new Green Deal for Europeans by making the Green Deal blue and taking decisive action to end all overfishing in response to the climate emergency.”

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