Warming Waters Push Tuna Away from Reliant Pacific Nations

Warming Waters Pushing Tuna Away from Reliant Pacific Nations

A new study by the Pacific Community (SPC), the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Parties to the Nauru Agreement Office (PNAO), and the University of Wollongong found that tuna populations will likely be pushed from the waters of 10 Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS) due to climate change. For nations that rely on tuna as a source of food and income, the consequences could be devastating.

Scientific models report that at the current rate of warming, tuna catch rates in the combined waters of the 10 SIDS could decline by an average of 20% by 2050. This could threaten more than 20,000 jobs supported by tuna processing, harvesting, and the governance of fishing operations.

In response to these findings, Conservation International is urging the global community to consider ecosystem shifts like this one as environmental justice issues and ensure the balance between natural resources and Pacific Island economies.

UN: Solomon Islands - Saving The Pacific's Tuna, May 24, 2017.

Why This Matters

Johann Bell, the lead author of the study and the Senior Director of Tuna Fisheries at Conservation International’s Center for Oceans, explained the severity of the situation to ODP.

Many Pacific Island countries and territories have an extraordinary dependence on tuna for economic development … The income they receive from their well-managed tuna resources is essential for supporting their health systems, education systems, and infrastructure.

That infrastructure will soon include life-saving climate adaptation measures.

"As the populations of these states continue to grow, the rich tuna resources of the region will need to play an increasingly important role in the food security of the wider Pacific Island community," Bell said.

Big Tuna

Not only do many SIDS rely on tuna for their fishing industries, but they also rely on selling access permits to distant waters fishing fleets. Those permits will be obsolete, however, if tuna populations move to the high seas. "When tuna move from the exclusive economic zones of Pacific SIDS to the high seas, it is more difficult to enforce the regulations designed to sustain the stocks and the economies that rely on them," said Sangaalofa Clark, the CEO of PNAO.

Bell and other leaders say that this is an environmental justice issue. "The 10 Pacific SIDS have a deep economic dependence on tuna fishing but contribute little to global warming. In contrast, nations responsible for 60% of historical greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would benefit from the migration of tuna to the high seas."

The study identified routes to limit tuna migration out of the region:

Stuart Minchin, the Director-General of SPC, hopes to shed light on this issue at COP26 in Glasgow. "We strongly hope that it will lead to concrete commitments by the COP and the UNFCCC architecture, including its financing mechanisms," he said.

Pacific Community: Pacific Tuna - Feeling the Heat, July 27, 2021.