Warming oceans and drying fisheries

Economies of northwest African countries would suffer as no policy measures to mitigate losses

Last Updated: Wednesday 26 February 2020

The economies of tropical countries — especially those which mainly rely on fish resources — could suffer as ocean warming increases, according to a study published in journal Nature Sustainability on February 24, 2020. As ocean temperatures increase, fishes migrate to cooler water to maintain their thermal environments.

As a result, several tropical countries — especially those in the northwest African region — stand to lose out. The economies of these countries would suffer as there are no policy measures in place to mitigate these losses.

There were no specific laws either to measure the consequences for when a fish leaves a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), according to Kimberly Oremus, a professor in the University of Delaware.

Such zones are established to give countries national jurisdiction over fish resources.

Researchers examined at least 127 international agreements — including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, regional agreements and smaller bilateral agreements— but could not find any policy over the migration of fishes.

"The tropics are predicted to lose more fish species than other regions," said Oremus. "Fish usually have a temperature range that they’re comfortable living in and if it gets too hot, they’re going to migrate towards the poles," she added.

In moderate to most severe scenarios, northwest African EEZs stand to lose 6 to 25 per cent of their fish species by 2050. The study also predicted that by 2100, a drastic dip in fish stock of 30 to 58 per cent could occur.

By 2100, the average tropical country also stands to lose at least 7 per cent of their fish species that were present in 2012.

Policy makers need to evaluate how tropical countries would be compensated for their losses from climate change. Such compensation would help stop countries from overfishing their stocks in anticipation of a future migration of their fish resource, said Oremus.

International agreements regarding climate change had better mechanisms to consider compensation for such losses than the several fisheries agreements that researchers had examined, according to her.

The research was conducted by the University of Delaware, the University of California, Santa Barbara and Hokkaido University.

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