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Fishing for a future: In the face of climate change and overfishing, artisanal fishers battle to feed a growing population | EDF

Boat on ocean.
The sun rises over a fishing boat in Cabo Blanco, Peru. Image Credit: H. Plenge/EDF

These excerpts are from a piece in the Environmental Defense Fund ‘The Big Picture’ section. The story includes quotations from Chris Golden (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) and Jim Leape (Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions), both members of the Blue Food Assessment team. Read the full piece here.

Six days a week, hours before the first rays of sun brighten the pale cliffs above Cabo Blanco, Carlos Chapilliquén rows through the surf to his small wooden boat, climbs aboard and raises its sail. With a tug on the mainsheet and a flick of the tiller, he coaxes the wind into the cloth and the boat surges over the waves, into the heart of one of the most abundant marine ecosystems on Earth.

From the age of six, when his uncles taught him how to bait a hook and troll with the wind, Chapilliquén has worked the Pacific waters off his hometown in northern Peru, where the cold Humboldt Current sideswipes the warm equatorial current. The resulting upwelling of nutrient-rich water has long sustained a chain of rich marine life, from plankton and anchovies to mackerel, shark and tuna. It was in these waters that Ernest Hemingway caught a 700-pound black marlin in 1956, during the filming of The Old Man and the Sea. And it was here, in 1953, that a Texas oilman landed a 1,560-pounder that still stands as the biggest marlin ever caught.

“Nowadays, it’s rare to see a fish that’s even a third of that size,” says Chapilliquén, 44, who has watched the horizon change dramatically over his lifetime as oil rigs multiplied offshore. Spills — such as a 11,900-barrel release near Lima in mid-January that devastated wildlife and left hundreds of fishermen out of work — are just one of “a mountain of challenges” that Chapilliquén says the area’s small-scale fishers face. Catches continue to decline as climate change advances. And large, industrial fishing boats from elsewhere — some fishing illegally — crisscross the nearshore waters, decimating stocks and jeopardizing local livelihoods.

Without drastic action, many tropical developing nations could see catches fall another 40% by the 2050s.

By then, the planet’s population is projected to have grown by more than 25%, making declining catches a food-security concern as well as an economic and environmental one. More than 3 billion people rely on seafood as a vital source of protein in their diets, and billions more depend on it for essential nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and iron.

“It spells a looming food crisis in the equatorial band where people are already at the threshold for inadequate nutrition and fisheries are most at risk from illegal fishing, weak governance and climate impacts,” says Christopher Golden, a Harvard professor who studies nutrition and environmental health.

Many environmentalists believe that sustainably farmed fish could help meet a growing population’s demand for protein.

“With capture fisheries so close to their limits there’s broad recognition that most of the growth in seafood production will need to come from well-managed aquaculture.” says Jim Leape, co-director of the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions. “The problem is that aquaculture relies too much on wild fish for feed.”

Read the full EDF ‘The Big Picture’ piece >