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Compound Climate Risks Threaten Aquatic Food System Benefits

Tigchelaar, M., Cheung, W. W. L., Mohammed, E. Y., Phillips, M., et al. 2021

An integrative climate risk assessment of blue food systems across freshwater and marine capture fisheries and aquaculture to illuminate the climate risks that each country will face.

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Damaged boats are seen in this aerial photograph at a boatyard on the Bolivar Peninsula in Galveston, Texas.
Damaged boats are seen in this aerial photograph at a boatyard on the Bolivar Peninsula in Galveston, Texas. Hurricane Ike struck the Texas Gulf Coast as a strong Category 2 storm, Sept. 13, 2008, causing widespread damage to the region. (Image Credit: Chris Hoffpauir)

Blue food is a cornerstone of many coastal and inland communities, supporting the health and livelihoods of billions of people worldwide. Yet climate change threatens how much blue food wild fisheries and aquaculture can supply. In a warming world, there are multiple hazards: marine fisheries, for instance, must contend with shifting species distributions, shellfish production with ocean acidification, and inland fisheries with prolonged droughts that limit freshwater availability. By undermining production capacity, climate change compromises blue food’s contributions to economic and food security—a risk that has never been fully accounted for, until now. 

This paper offers a novel projection of where people stand to lose blue food benefits in a changing climate, and how that risk might be reduced. Risk is determined by the climate hazards every country faces, its dependence on blue food, and its vulnerability should associated benefits disappear. This integrative assessment puts all blue food “on the same table” by conducting an analysis across all production systems and environments. In addition to highlighting the importance of adaptations in the blue food sector, results call for system-level interventions to reduce vulnerability, emphasizing the importance of collective responsibility in strengthening climate resilience.

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Capture fisheries, especially in the tropics, face higher climate hazards than aquaculture.

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Freshwater systems face higher climate hazards than saltwater systems.

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When considering where people depend on blue food benefits the most, much of Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and the Indo-Pacific are most exposed to high climate hazards.

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Under a high-emission scenario, by 2050 over 50 countries that heavily depend on blue food will face high climate hazards yet have limited capacity to adapt—creating a “triple jeopardy.”

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The analysis clusters countries into different risk profiles to develop region- and context-specific interventions that reduce risk.

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To strengthen climate resilience in highly vulnerable countries, initiatives should focus on system-level interventions such as strengthening governance, promoting gender equality and reducing poverty.

“By more strategically investing in solutions, we can support billions of people worldwide who stand to lose significant blue food benefits to climate change.”

– Michelle Tigchelaar, Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions

“This research demonstrates how climate change affects the environmental, socio-economic and health dimensions of blue foods, highlighting the need to collaborate on building climate resilience for blue foods across political borders.”

– William Cheung, The University of British Columbia

“Targeted policy and investment require analyses like this one that illuminate the geographical variation in the magnitude and type of threats to blue food systems.”

– Abigail Bennett, Michigan State University
Michelle Tigchelaar*William W. L. Cheung*Essam Yassin Mohammed*
Michael Phillips*Hanna J. Payne Elizabeth R. Selig
Colette C.C. WabnitzMuhammed A. OyinlolaThomas L. Frölicher
Jessica A. GephartChristopher D. GoldenEdward H. Allison
Abigail BennettLing CaoJessica Fanzo
Benjamin S. HalpernVicky W. Y. LamFiorenza Micheli
Rosamond L. NaylorU. Rashid SumailaAlessandro Tagliabue
Max Troell
*Asterisk denotes shared first co-authorship.

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