Adapting to a changing climate is about more than handling heatwaves

Our Head of Seafood Horizons shares our latest climate change adaptation watching brief report and talks about adaptation in UK seafood.

In recent weeks we’ve seen how extreme weather can impact our infrastructure and services with the heatwave causing significant disruption. With severe weather events becoming more common, it's understandable to ask ‘shouldn’t we have seen this coming?’ 

Reacting swiftly to such events is paramount, but we should also try to anticipate them. The importance of being prepared – anticipating the challenges brought by a changing climate and adapting to them – ought to be high on the ‘to do’ list. However, with many other challenges afoot that’s easier said than done. The ‘to do’ list is already lengthy!

Photo of sunset over ocean

What challenges could climate change bring for the seafood industry?

Whilst the industry is adept at reacting quickly to deal with sudden changes, climate change may be quietly driving longer-term changes in the background. Climate change might mean that unusual changes – a heatwave, a cold snap, a storm event and the like – become more regular. This will test the resilience of the industry. Where changes become regular, and start to become ‘normalised’, this may affect the availability of fish and shellfish. It may challenge supply chain efficiency and undermine the ability of chains to function.

Looking ahead, the seafood industry may be impacted not just by rising temperatures. Seafood sourcing and supply may also be affected by changes in storm frequency or intensity, rainfall, and changing sea or water levels. In the longer term ocean acidification may also have an impact.

How is the seafood industry responding and how are we offering support?

Seafood operators are already changing practices that can help industry adapt to climate change.  Changing practices often aren't primarily ‘because of climate change’ but can nonetheless help.  For example, changes in vessel design and fishing practices, investment in port infrastructure, contingency planning for flooding, and employing in-house scientists to understand the changes underway all contribute to being better prepared.

To support adaptation in the seafood industry we have maintained a dialogue with industry stakeholders on climate change. We have worked with partners to review climate change impacts on seafood and engaged industry to identify relevant adaptation actions. This work covers supply chains reliant on both wild capture and aquaculture, and sourcing from the UK and internationally.

We also maintain a rolling ‘annual watching brief’ to track how climate change is affecting seafood and any progress on adaptation actions. We have now published our watching brief report covering 2020-21.

Cover of 2020-21 Climate Change Adaptation Watching brief report

It highlights opportunities to enhance, as well as factors undermining, climate change adaptation in UK seafood. In domestic supply chains, several developments undermine the ability of the industry to adapt to climate change. These include limited science-industry collaboration and the introduction of inflexible institutional arrangements with priorities shaped by environmental rather than socio-economic considerations. In international sourcing, market led initiatives could potentially play a critical role in adaptation. However, this is more challenging when overseas suppliers have an opportunity to switch to alternative markets without the same level of scrutiny.

We are also currently updating our review of climate adaptation in wild capture supply chains. We will  be looking to engage industry stakeholders to discuss this update and to consider where adaptation action is taking place, where the gaps are, and where new action is needed.

Find out more

You can download a copy of our latest annual climate change watching brief report from the link below:

You can find watching brief reports from earlier years and get copies of our reviews on adaptation in aquaculture and wild capture from the link below:

If you’re interested in finding out more about our climate change work please contact