7 challenges facing future global seafood supply

Published on
July 2, 2015

It’s not just natural predators and overfishing putting the global seafood supply at risk – according to a study conducted by UBC scientists on behalf of the Nereus Program in Japan, climate change and ocean acidification will also play a considerable, antagonistic part in seafood’s future.

Many fisheries will be in decline as a result of climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing and destruction of marine ecosystems, noted Nereus Program researchers. What’s more, as temperatures fluctuate and CO2 emissions continue to trend high, so too will the species that fishers encounter in their regions, meaning dinner plates will be featuring very different fish as time goes on.

“As the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere is altered through continued CO2 emissions, so too will there be demonstrable changes in the chemistry of the oceans. Evidence of increased ocean acidification and decreasing oxygen, both of which are critical factors that influence marine life and biodiversity, are mounting. Naturally, changes in the oceans will have major repercussions on their capacity to support marine life and, ultimately, fisheries,” wrote the UBC researchers in the latest Nereus Program report.

"The types of fish that we will have on our dinner table will be very different in the future," added William Cheung, UBC associate professor and the co-director of the Nereus program. "Fisheries will be catching more warm-water species, with smaller size, and that will affect fish supply through our domestic and oversea fisheries as well as imports."

Moving forward, it will be necessary for fisheries and seafood stakeholders to consider the following challenges facing future oceans:

  1. Due to CO2 emissions, changes in global ocean properties – particularly temperatures, acidity and oxygen levels – are occurring at a scale unprecedented in the last several thousands of years.
  2. Climate change is expected to affect the oceans’ biological productivity–from phytoplankton to the top predators.
  3. Climate change has already been affecting global marine ecosystems and fisheries, with further impacts expected given current trends in CO2 emissions.
  4. Fishing exerts significant pressure on marine ecosystems globally – altering biodiversity and food web structures – and affects the ability of the international community to meet its sustainability goals.
  5. The impacts of climate change interact with the existing problems of overfishing and habitat destruction, driven largely by excess fishing fleets, coastal development and market expansion.
  6. Aquaculture is developing rapidly, with the potential to supersede marine capture fish supply. Yet,the full understanding of its impact, including its long-term ecological and social sustainability, is unclear.
  7. Sustainable fisheries in the future require the further development and strengthening of international fisheries law, as well as the overarching international framework for ocean governance.

There are solutions out there to help keep seafood supply in check, such as improving ocean governance worldwide to ensure sustainable fisheries and the need to limit carbon dioxide emissions, the researchers posited.

"Global marine ecosystems have already been largely altered by overfishing," said Daniel Pauly, professor at UBC and an advisor to Nereus. "This report clearly points out that any solution needs to deal with the CO2 problem as well."

The report also recommends that diversifying the toolkit for fisheries management as well as enhancing cooperation and coordination between international fisheries regulation and regulation of other maritime activities could make a big difference when it comes to global seafood supply impact.

Explore the report, and the complete list of suggestions from the Nereus researchers, in the window below:

The Nereus Program was established in 2011 by the Nippon Foundation and the University of British Columbia, and is part of a partnership between eight institutions: the Nippon Foundation, the University of British Columbia, the University of Cambridge, Duke University, Princeton University, Stockholm University, United Nations Environmental Program-World Conservation Monitoring Center and Utrecht University.

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500