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Climate change could reduce the fisheries’ catch of Canada’s coastal indigenous peoples by up to 49 per cent

14 January 2016

First Nations fisheries’ catch could decline by as much as 49 per cent by 2050, estimates a new University of British Columbia (UBC) study led by Lauren Weatherdon, Programme Officer at UNEP-WCMC that examined the threat of climate change to the food security and economies of First Nations along coastal British Columbia, Canada.

The study found that climate change is likely to lead to declines in herring and salmon, which are among the most important commercial, cultural, and nutritional species for the coastal indigenous peoples of Canada. While many studies examine the impact of climate change on large commercial fisheries, few focus on indigenous communities. The researchers conservatively estimate that coastal First Nations could suffer economic losses of $6.7 to $12 million CAD annually by 2050.

The study, published today in PLOS ONE, was led by Lauren Weatherdon whilst she was a graduate student at UBC, in collaboration with scientists of the Nereus Program, an international research team led by UBC scientists at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and supported by the Nippon Foundation in Japan.

The researchers modelled how climate change is likely to affect 98 culturally and commercially important fish and shellfish species between 2000 and 2050. The study examined the impact of changes in ocean conditions such as temperature and oxygen levels on habitat suitability for these species under a low-emissions scenario, where sea surface temperature would increase by 0.5 degrees Celsius, and a high-emissions scenario, where sea surface temperature would increase by one degree Celsius in the Northeast Pacific Ocean by 2050.

The research team projected that all species would move away from their current habitats and toward cooler waters at an average rate of 10.3 to 18.0 kilometres per decade under the low- and high-emissions scenarios respectively. These altered distributions have significant consequences for First Nations, who are generally confined to their traditional territories when fishing for food, social, and ceremonial purposes.

Publication information

Weatherdon LV, Ota Y, Jones MC, Close DA, Cheung WWL. (2016). Projected scenarios for coastal First Nations’ fisheries catch potential under climate change: management challenges and opportunities. PLOS ONE. doi: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0145285

Infographic available as a PDF download.

Infographic of research