Skip to content
Share this paper

Vulnerability of Blue Foods to Human-Induced Environmental Change

Cao, L., Halpern, B.S., Troell, M., Short, R.E., Zeng, C., Jiang, Z., Liu, Y., et al. 2023

The first global assessment of how blue food production is vulnerable to human-induced environmental pressures, highlighting where and how we can create a more robust and resilient food system.

Read the paper
White fish cages floating on green water.

There is a growing recognition that blue foods have an essential role to play in the shift towards healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems.  While concerns about the blue food sector’s environmental impacts have intensified, little attention has been paid to the vulnerability of blue food systems to human-induced environmental change. This paper provides the first global assessment of the vulnerability of blue food production systems to date and identifies the predominant human-induced stressors affecting the production and safety of blue foods. 

This paper identifies the ten predominant stressors affecting the production quantity and the seven stressors affecting the safety of blue foods. It reveals which blue food systems and geographies are the most vulnerable and highlights which adaptation and mitigation measures should be prioritized. Results provide decision-makers with new scientific insights to enable strategic planning and policy development to maintain sustainable and resilient blue food value chains in the face of environmental change.


Ten key threats affecting the quantity of production include warming, acidification, sea level rise, severe weather events, altered precipitation, hypoxia, eutrophication, diseases, invasions, and parasites.


Seven major concerns for quality and safety include harmful algal blooms, non-indigenous bacteria (e.g., from land run-off), indigenous bacteria (e.g., from climate change), heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, pesticides, and antibiotics.


Marine production faces high threats in production quantity across many geographical locations, whereas threats to inland production are concentrated within a handful of countries.


Marine fisheries were more vulnerable to climatic stresses particularly warming and acidification, while aquaculture was more vulnerable to non-climatic stresses such as diseases and hypoxia.


The cluster of countries responsible for the majority of blue food production on our planet was the most affected in terms of quantity and safety across all blue food production systems.


Decision-makers should prioritize adaptation and mitigation actions in Asia, Latin America and Africa due to high risk and low national response capacities.

Ling Cao*Benjamin S. Halpern*Max Troell*
Rebecca E. Short*Cong Zeng*Ziyu Jiang*
Yue Liu*Chengxuan ZouShurong Liu
Chunyu LiuXiangwei LiuWilliam W. L. Cheung
Richard S. CottrellFabrice DeClerckStefan Gelcich
Jessica A. GephartDakoury Godo-SoloJessie Ihilani Kaull
Fiorenza MicheliRosamond L. NaylorHanna J. Payne
Elizabeth R. SeligU. Rashid SumailaMichelle Tigchelaar
*Asterisk denotes shared first coauthorship.

“Though often overlooked, blue foods are vulnerable to human-induced environmental change. Understanding key threats helps ensure more resilient systems and long-term sustainable production.”

– Ling Cao, Xiamen University

“Blue foods face multiple pressures from a wide range of human activities, but in different ways. Getting ahead of these pressures will help make blue foods more resilient and productive.”

– Ben Halpern, University of California Santa Barbara

“Blue foods are vulnerable across the globe, especially among high-producing countries in Asia. We urgently need adaptation strategies to sustain production in these geographies.”

– Ziyu Jiang, Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Learn more