Towards a sustainable and equitable blue economy

The global rush to develop the ‘blue economy’ risks harming both the marine environment and human wellbeing. Bold policies and actions are urgently needed. We identify five priorities to chart a course towards an environmentally sustainable and socially equitable blue economy.

Climate change impacts on marine biodiversity, fisheries and society in the Arabian Gulf.

Climate change–reflected in significant environmental changes such as warming, sea level rise, shifts in salinity, oxygen and other ocean conditions–is expected to impact marine organisms and associated fisheries. This study provides an assessment of the potential impacts on, and the vulnerability of, marine biodiversity and fisheries catches in the Arabian Gulf under climate change. To this end, using three separate niche modelling approaches under a ‘business-as-usual’ climate change scenario, we projected the future habitat suitability of the Arabian Gulf (also known as the Persian Gulf) for 55 expert-identified priority species, including charismatic and non-fish species. Second, we conducted a vulnerability assessment of national economies to climate change impacts on fisheries. The modelling outputs suggested a high rate of local extinction (up to 35% of initial species richness) by 2090 relative to 2010. Spatially, projected local extinctions are highest in the southwestern part of the Gulf, off the coast of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While the projected patterns provided useful indicators of potential climate change impacts on the region’s diversity, the magnitude of changes in habitat suitability are more uncertain. Fisheries-specific results suggested reduced future catch potential for several countries on the western side of the Gulf, with projections differing only slightly among models. Qatar and the UAE were particularly affected, with more than a 26% drop in future fish catch potential. Integrating changes in catch potential with socio-economic indicators suggested the fisheries of Bahrain and Iran may be most vulnerable to climate change. We discuss limitations of the indicators and the methods used, as well as the implications of our overall findings for conservation and fisheries management policies in the region.

Who brings in the fish? The relative contribution of small-scale and industrial fisheries to food security in Southeast Asia.

Amidst overexploited fisheries and further climate related declines projected in tropical fisheries, marine dependent small-scale fishers in Southeast Asia face an uncertain future. Yet, small-scale fishers are seldom explicitly considered in regional fisheries management and their contribution to national fish supply tends to be greatly under-estimated compared to industrial fisheries. Lack of knowledge about the small-scale sector jeopardizes informed decision-making for sustainable ecosystem based fisheries planning and social development. We fill this knowledge gap by applying reconstructed marine fish catch statistics from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam—countries of the Gulf of Thailand—from 1950 to 2013 to assess the relative contribution of small-scale and industrial fisheries to national food security.

Committing to socially responsible seafood.

Seafood is the world’s most internationally traded food commodity. Approximately three out of every seven people globally rely on seafood as a primary source of animal protein (1). Revelations about slavery and labor rights abuses in fisheries have sparked outrage and shifted the conversation (2, 3), placing social issues at the forefront of a sector that has spent decades working to improve environmental sustainability. In response, businesses are seeking to reduce unethical practices and reputational risks in their supply chains. Governments are formulating policy responses, and nonprofit and philanthropic organizations are deploying resources and expertise to address critical social issues. Yet the scientific community has not kept pace with concerns for social issues in the sector. As the United Nations Ocean Conference convenes in New York (5 to 9 June), we propose a framework for social responsibility and identify key steps the scientific community must take to inform policy and practice for this global challenge.

Impact of high seas closure on food security in low income fish dependent countries.

We investigate how high seas closure will affect the availability of commonly consumed food fish in 46 fish reliant, and/or low income countries. Domestic consumption of straddling fish species (fish that would be affected by high seas closure) occurred in 54% of the assessed countries. The majority (70%) of countries were projected to experience net catch gains following high seas closure. However, countries with projected catch gains and that also consumed the straddling fish species domestically made up only 37% of the assessed countries. In contrast, much fewer countries (25%) were projected to incur net losses from high seas closure, and of these, straddling species were used domestically in less than half (45%) of the countries. Our findings suggest that, given the current consumption patterns of straddling species, high seas closure may only directly benefit the supply of domestically consumed food fish in a small number of fish reliant and/or low income countries.