The combined impacts of climate change and overfishing are putting food security at risk in dozens of countries, according to a recent study.
Warming temperatures have affected “the overall availability of micronutrients for 65 nations” that are dependent on fish for protein, “consequently threatening the food security of millions of people living in these countries,” reports SciDev.Net.
The study, published in the journal Current Biology, analyzed more than 800 fish species from more than 157 countries. The researchers identified countries in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, and the Pacific, where residents are most likely to consume inadequate amounts of micronutrients, as both the most vulnerable to climate change and the least equipped to adapt.
However, fish catches in these countries are also nutrient dense, and have the greatest diversity of species. This suggests an “unmet potential for fisheries to help close nutrition gaps, especially amongst coastal communities,” said lead author Eva Maire of the Lancaster Environment Centre.
Fishing supports trade and employment in coastal nations while providing critical nutrients for local diets, the study notes. But because climate change—along with the effects of overfishing—threatens the long-term health of fish populations, there is “a need to consolidate fisheries, climate, and food policies to secure the sustainable contribution of fish-derived micronutrients to food and nutrition security.”
The authors are urging action to mitigate overfishing by supporting other economic activities, and by developing fish farms to reduce dependence on harvesting wild populations. Effective climate change mitigation is also a “high priority,” said Maire.
“We need to find a way to put human nutrition at the core of fisheries policies,” she told SciDev.Net. “Food security policy-makers should acknowledge that fish is nutrient-rich food and work on what can be done to increase access to fish by malnourished people.”
The new analysis lands at a moment when extreme weather events are further threatening the stability of the global food system, Bloomberg News reports. Heat waves, droughts, and floods are destroying crops and food supplies in various parts of the world, making it “increasingly hard to produce enough food for the world, with the poorest nations typically feeling the hardest blow.”