Fishing nations threatened by global warming


Climate change

fishermen in Indonesia

Credit: Everystockphoto

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KUALA LUMPUR: Climate change poses a grave threat to dozens of countries where people depend on fish for food, according to a study published Friday that said catches are imperilled by coastal storms and damage to coral reefs.

The WorldFish research centre identified 33 countries as "highly vulnerable" to the effects of climate change because of their heavy reliance on fisheries and limited alternative sources of protein.

Many of the group, which takes in the African nations of Malawi, Guinea, Senegal, Uganda; Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam in Asia; and Peru and Colombia in South America; are among the world's poorest countries.

"Low-lying highly populated countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia will face major inundations of crop land with rising sea levels and this will cause a loss of productive land and impact their economies badly," the study's lead author Edward Allison said.

"As fish is central to many economies and diets, people in the tropics and subtropics will be affected as they have a limited ability to develop other sources of income and food in the face of such change," he added.

"The damage will be greatly compounded unless governments and international institutions like the World Bank act now to include the fish sector in plans for helping the poor cope with climate change."

Global fisheries provide more than 2.6 billion people with at least 20 per cent of their average annual protein intake, the study said, citing UN data.

The report, prepared by the Malaysia-based WorldFish and a number of universities and research groups, said climate change threatened to destroy coral reefs, push salt water into freshwater habitats and produce more coastal storms.

It said that the 33 "highly vulnerable" countries produce 20 percent of the world's fish exports and that they should be given priority in efforts to help them adapt to climate change.

Two-thirds of the most vulnerable nations are in Africa, where fish accounts for more than half of the daily animal protein consumed and where fish production is highly sensitive to climate variations.

In South Asia, the report said potential problems including bleaching of coral reefs and changes in river flows as a result of reduced snowfalls present a danger to freshwater habitats.

Allison said the next step would be to investigate the impact climate change will have on these countries and the cost of adapting to the new environment.

He said a lack of data meant researchers were unable to include 60 nations including the tiny Pacific states of Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, and the military dictatorship of Myanmar, that were likely to be highly vulnerable.