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Mixed responses of tropical Pacific fisheries and aquaculture to climate change


Pacific Island countries have an extraordinary dependence on fisheries and aquaculture. Maintaining the benefits from the sector is a difficult task, now made more complex by climate change. Here we report how changes to the atmosphere–ocean are likely to affect the food webs, habitats and stocks underpinning fisheries and aquaculture across the region. We found winners and losers—tuna are expected to be more abundant in the east and freshwater aquaculture and fisheries are likely to be more productive. Conversely, coral reef fisheries could decrease by 20% by 2050 and coastal aquaculture may be less efficient. We demonstrate how the economic and social implications can be addressed within the sector—tuna and freshwater aquaculture can help support growing populations as coral reefs, coastal fisheries and mariculture decline.

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Figure 1: Projected changes to the tropical Pacific Ocean under the IPCC SRES A2 emissions scenario.
Figure 2: Projected distributions of skipjack tuna biomass across the tropical Pacific Ocean under the IPCC SRES A2 emissions scenario.
Figure 3: Projected changes in tropical Pacific coastal habitats and fisheries production.
Figure 4: Projected directions of existing plans to derive more livelihoods from fisheries and aquaculture resources, and effects of climate change on these plans.
Figure 5: Percentage contributions of various fisheries and aquaculture resources required to supply selected Pacific Island countries and territories with the fish recommended for good nutrition.

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We thank the modelling groups at the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) and the World Climate Research Programme’s (WCRP) Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM), for their roles in making available the WCRP CMIP3 multi-model data set. Their work, and the support provided for these data sets by the Office of Science, US Department of Energy, enabled us to assess the projected effects of climate change on surface climate and the tropical Pacific Ocean. We also thank the many colleagues who assisted us to make and present the analyses summarized in this article. Financial support for this project was provided by AusAID as part of Australia’s International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative.

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J.D.B. designed the study in collaboration with J.E.J. and A.J.H., and compiled the manuscript from analyses and written inputs/review by all authors. The model analyses were done by A.S.G. (surface climate and ocean), A.G. (ocean) and R.J.M. (ecological provinces, NPP and zooplankton biomass); S.P.G. did the modelling of micronekton using Ecopath with Ecosim, and P.L. and I.S. modelled the biomass of skipjack tuna using SEAPODYM.

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Correspondence to Johann D. Bell.

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Bell, J., Ganachaud, A., Gehrke, P. et al. Mixed responses of tropical Pacific fisheries and aquaculture to climate change. Nature Clim Change 3, 591–599 (2013).

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