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Impacts of climate change on marine ecosystem production in societies dependent on fisheries


Growing human populations and changing dietary preferences are increasing global demands for fish1, adding pressure to concerns over fisheries sustainability2. Here we develop and link models of physical, biological and human responses to climate change in 67 marine national exclusive economic zones, which yield approximately 60% of global fish catches, to project climate change yield impacts in countries with different dependencies on marine fisheries3. Predicted changes in fish production indicate increased productivity at high latitudes and decreased productivity at low/mid latitudes, with considerable regional variations. With few exceptions, increases and decreases in fish production potential by 2050 are estimated to be <10% (mean +3.4%) from present yields. Among the nations showing a high dependency on fisheries3, climate change is predicted to increase productive potential in West Africa and decrease it in South and Southeast Asia. Despite projected human population increases and assuming that per capita fish consumption rates will be maintained1, ongoing technological development in the aquaculture industry suggests that projected global fish demands in 2050 could be met, thus challenging existing predictions of inevitable shortfalls in fish supply by the mid-twenty-first century4. This conclusion, however, is contingent on successful implementation of strategies for sustainable harvesting and effective distribution of wild fish products from nations and regions with a surplus to those with a deficit. Changes in management effectiveness2 and trade practices5 will remain the main influence on realized gains or losses in global fish production.

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Figure 1: Results of the modelling runs for the shelf seas of 20 large marine ecosystems.
Figure 2: Changes in physical and ecological parameters of national shelf seas.
Figure 3: Overall national dependency on fish and fisheries in the regions considered.
Figure 4: Kobe plot of potential catch change and national dependency on fisheries per national EEZ.


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This work was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council’s ‘Quantifying and Understanding the Earth System’ programme as part of the ‘QUEST-Fish’ project ( This is a contribution to the ICES-PICES Strategic Initiative on Climate Change impacts on Marine Ecosystems (SICCME).

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M.B. designed the study and wrote the text. J.I.A., J. Harle and J.H. designed and conducted the physical–biological model runs. J.L.B and S.J. designed the size-based approach and model. J.L.B. conducted model runs and summarized outputs. G.M. contributed to the size-based fisheries outputs and prepared the figures. E.H.A. and J.S. computed the dependency estimates. All authors contributed to the text.

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Correspondence to M. Barange.

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Barange, M., Merino, G., Blanchard, J. et al. Impacts of climate change on marine ecosystem production in societies dependent on fisheries. Nature Clim Change 4, 211–216 (2014).

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