Why the seafood industry is adapting to climate change impacts

Why the seafood industry is adapting to climate change impacts

Our Head of Seafood Horizons talks about climate change, food production, and the importance of early response to a changing climate.

Climate change is interlinked with other global challenges. These include feeding a global population and ensuring we have sufficient water, energy and biodiversity. 

Impacts of climate change

We are already seeing the impacts of climate change and expect further impacts to come. These factors could challenge seafood supply chains. Changes in storminess and waves could compromise vessel and crew safety, damage port infrastructure and aquaculture facilities. We’re also seeing changes in air and water temperature which could be playing a role in the changing distribution of some wild caught species and might, in time, affect the range of species that can be farmed. 

Over the longer term, changes in terrestrial rainfall could mean surface flooding of land-based infrastructure, affecting water quality and salinity of nearshore waters. Looking further into the future, we might expect to see sea-levels rising and an increased the risk of coastal flooding of onshore infrastructure. Another issue in the long term could be ocean acidification which might affect fish in low oxygen waters, including the ability of shellfish to form their shells. 

The need for food production to adapt

It’s essential that we have sustainable food production systems to feed our growing global population. Seafood has a key role to play in transforming food production to business models that have a lower impact on the environment. At the same time, we need to make sure that these systems aren’t unduly disrupted by climate change.

Seafood businesses are already adapting to a changing climate in all sorts of ways. Those working in fisheries are monitoring the impacts of changes in ocean temperature and tentative steps are being taken between stakeholders to discuss shifting stocks. Vessel owners are taking steps to improve safety to cope with more frequent and severe storms while working at sea, and ports are investing in flood defences. Major processors are also ‘war gaming’ flood scenarios that might disrupt operations.

The long-term challenge is one of addressing climate change whilst - at the same time - feeding a world population. Transforming food production will require smarter production - including efficient operations and responsible sourcing practices, and smarter consumption – including healthier choices and less food waste.

Halting food production for the sake of it will be counterproductive, potentially channelling consumption towards high impact foods. All food production relies on environmental resources and has some form of environmental impact. As a relatively low emissions protein, seafood is a climate smart food choice and a good option for those consumers wanting to reduce their meat intake to help the climate. With the resources of the blue economy to hand, seafood has enormous potential to help meet the food needs of a growing world population.

We face unparalleled global challenges with clear calls to action from around the world. In rising to these challenges, and despite the many hurdles, the seafood industry is playing its part. From small operators through to some of the largest international seafood businesses, people are thinking differently and taking action. 

Information and resources for seafood businesses 

With the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) taking place in Glasgow next month, there’s never been a better time for UK seafood businesses to get up to speed on the impacts that climate change is having and will continue to have.

We’re working with industry and government to understand the impact on seafood businesses. This month we’re running a campaign to raise awareness on how climate change impacts the seafood industry. We’re also launching a new e-alert to provide target updates on climate change adaptation and mitigation that are relevant for seafood businesses.

As part of our ongoing seafood horizons work, we keep a watching brief on how climate change impacts on UK seafood supply chains. We also produce climate change adaptation reports based in in-depth reviews. Our latest review, published in August 2021 focuses on understanding and responding to climate change in aquaculture sourced seafood. We’re planning to carry out a refresh of our review into wild capture seafood supply next year.

You can access more information on our work in these areas from the links below:

If you have any questions about our climate change adaptation work please contact climate@seafish.co.uk