What happens when the fish disappear?

By Hana Keegan

I have always lived by the sea. Each and every morning, the sun rises. It sheds light on the ever-changing blues of the water’s surface. I have spent days swimming in these waters, gazing through my snorkelling mask at glittering fish as they feed on the coral reefs. I have also noticed how more and more of the coral heads are dying because of human activity. Witnessing how easily a habitat can be altered has allowed me to empathise with the fishing communities whose lives will be dramatically affected by changing global temperatures and weather patterns.

Between 10% and 12% of the world’s population rely on fisheries for their livelihoods (1). Those who live in coastal communities are directly or indirectly dependent on fish as a source of food, income and employment. It is estimated that fifty of the fifty-one million fishers around the world are small scale fishers from developing countries. Fish accounts for more than fifty-percent of the total animal protein intake of those living in the least developed countries. Fishing is enmeshed within their economic systems and socio-cultural identities on fishing communities.

So, what happens when the fish surrounding these communities are forced to move to different waters? What happens when the fish disappear?

Due to past and present greenhouse gas emissions from predominantly developed countries, the temperatures of our atmosphere and thus many of our sea waters are increasing. Many scientists argue that since pre-industrial times Earth’s atmosphere has already warmed by 0.8 degrees Celsius (2). It is predicted that if our current emissions stay the same, our atmospheric temperature will increase by another 3.21 degrees Celsius by 2050 (3). Changing atmospheric temperatures will cause our weather patterns to change and thus our sea temperatures. Whether they live on the coral reef or within the sea-grass, fish are accustomed to and dependent on the stability of the water’s temperature. Changing temperatures will disrupt fishes’ habitats. Richard Brodeur, a senior scientist at the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center research station in Newport, Oregon states that “as the climate warms, species will follow the conditions they’re adapted to” (4). If they cannot adapt, fish will move to different areas of the sea or, in the worst cases, die out.

As fish move to new waters, many coastal communities will loose a main source of food, income and culinary identity. Researchers agree that it will “become progressively more difficult” and in some cases impossible for communities to adapt to the scarcity and shifting populations of fish. (5)

The term “loss and damage” refers to the impacts of climate change that are felt by communities who have not been able to sufficiently adapt to changing weather patterns and temperature.

Communities in developing countries, those least historically responsible for the effects of climate change, will be the worst affected by loss and damage. Developed countries, those most historically responsible for runaway climate change, have not found the political will to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. They have a moral responsibility to firstly provide knowledge, technology and money to help developing countries adapt. If developing countries cannot adapt in time, developed countries must also help them deal with the effects of loss and damage. For coastal communities, loss and damage is the absence of fish. As fish change, inhabitants of coastal communities will loose a source of cultural identity, livelihood and food.

Food justice is an approach to food insecurity that recognises the socio-cultural, historical and structural factors that determine who has access to food and who does not. A food justice perspective recognises that as the climate changes fishing communities in developing countries will face food insecurity caused by the historic and ongoing emissions of developed countries.

As fish move, people who are reliant on them will face food insecurity and may also have to move. Those who are forced to migrate because the climate change has made it impossible for them to live where they have previously lived are climate refugees.

Loss and damage, food insecurity and displacement caused by climate change are intrinsically linked. The situation of coastal communities reliant on fish is just one example of these connections. In 2013, at the COP19 in Warsaw, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage was established. At the COP21 in Paris this December, a legal agreement about how countries will address climate change will be negotiated and agreed upon. The loss and damage mechanism within this agreement must ensure that developed countries provide the institutions and finance to research the impacts of climate change on food production; to prevent the erosion of livelihoods reliant on food production; and to provide immediate support to communities struggling with food insecurity caused by climate change. It is vital that we see the connections between loss and damage, food justice and climate migration. Communities reliant on fisheries and aquaculture are already experiencing the effects of changing temperatures and weather patterns. We must demand that the political leaders of developed countries take seriously their responsibility to support communities who are the worst affected by loss and damage, who face food insecurity and displacement caused by climate change.

(1) “The seafood economy,” Marine Stewardship Council, https://www.msc.org/healthy-oceans/the-oceans-today/the-seafood-economy

(2)  Tschakert, Petra, “1.5°C or 2°C: a conduit’s view from the science-policy interface at COP20 in Lima, Peru,” Climate Change Responses, 2015.

(3)  Tschakert, Petra, “1.5°C or 2°C: a conduit’s view from the science-policy interface at COP20 in Lima, Peru,” Climate Change Responses, 2015.

(4) Dillman, Terry, ”Climate Changes Could Affect Pacific Fisheries,” Fishermen’s News, September 1st 2015, http://www.fishermensnews.com/story/2015/09/01/features/climate-changes-could-affect-pacific-fisheries/347.html

(5) Dillman, Terry, ”Climate Changes Could Affect Pacific Fisheries,” Fishermen’s News, September 1st 2015, http://www.fishermensnews.com/story/2015/09/01/features/climate-changes-could-affect-pacific-fisheries/347.html

#climateaction #technology #technologytransfer #technologymechanism #tech #climatechange

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