Commentary, Environment

COMMENTARY: Climate Change and the Fishing Industry in Asia and Africa

Celestine Lindarto, University of Western Australia

From around the mid-1990s to 2007, oceans across the globe took in over 30 billion metric tons of carbon from fossil fuel combustion, with the world’s highest sea level being recorded in 2022. Climate change has also resulted in increased ocean surface temperatures as well as heightened severity of weather events such as tropical storms. Due to these climatic events, the fishing industry is seeing changes in both the distribution and abundance of fish as they move away from equatorial territories and swim poleward to find cooler regions

McKinsey and Company estimates fish catches will decrease by approximately 8% by 2050 due to warming oceans, potentially impacting the socioeconomic well-being of over 600 million people who depend on the fishing industry. Southeast Asia was reported to provide over one-fifth of global fish production. Indonesia’s fishery production alone reached over 22.5 million metric tons in 2019, contributing to nearly 2.7% of the economy’s GDP. In South Asia, Bangladesh’s fishing industry accounts for roughly 3.6% of the country’s GDP, and Malawi’s fishing sector constitutes around 4% of its GDP. In nations heavily dependent on their fishing sectors, a reduction in fish catches implies a decrease in both GDP and income, along with a notable increase in unemployment rates. 

According to 2020 data, the fisheries sector provides jobs for approximately 30 million people in Asia and 5 million people in Africa. In Guinea, the fisheries sector has an employment multiplier effect of over 3 for a fisherman’s job, meaning that for every fisherman job, around two additional onshore jobs are added to the overall economy.

In addition to being a source of income and employment, the fishing industry also generates foreign currency earnings, which may be put at risk with declining fish stocks. For instance, fish are ranked among Bangladesh, India, and Uganda’s primary sources of foreign currency. Bangladesh exports its fisheries products to the US, the EU, and Japan and was reported to earn over 500 million USD in the year 2011-2012. These foreign currency earnings can, in turn, benefit the country by facilitating the purchase of imports, offsetting foreign liabilities, and helping maintain the value of the local currency.

In Asia and Africa, dwindling fish stocks create additional barriers to food security. In parts of Southeast Asia, fish consumption constitutes more than a quarter of animal protein and total protein intake. In fact, fish consumption accounts for approximately 63% and 55% of animal protein intake in Cambodia and Indonesia, respectively. Additionally, over half of the states in Africa rely on fish imports for consumption, and fish contribute to almost 20% of the animal protein intake in Africa. 

A study conducted in Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe found that almost 80% of “small-scale fishers perceive their households to be food insecure due to declining incomes from fisheries,” highlighting that climate change not only puts national production, foreign currency earnings, and livelihoods at risk, but also affects food accessibility and availability. 

The frequency of weather events such as storms is also expected to increase as a result of climate change, potentially hindering fishing activities and damaging fishing assets. After the Idai and Kenneth cyclones in 2019, fishermen in Sofala, Mozambique were found to have lost roughly 600 vessels and 1,800 fishing gear. Two years prior, a cyclonic storm near India took the lives of over a hundred fishermen and obliterated boats and fishing supplies.

In addition to providing economic value, the fishing industry plays a crucial role in safeguarding the health and prosperity of populations across Asia and Africa. With so many lives dependent on fisheries, it is important to acknowledge the changing landscape of the fishing industry and the risks it poses to those who rely on it. The time to act is now: Sustainable fisheries management and responsible consumption, including the implementation of fish population monitoring and responsive management systems, are essential first steps to help prepare for what’s to come.

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