climate change uk fishing

Fisheries APPG held a webinar with a panel of academic and industry experts spoke about what climate change means for the UK fishing sector

On Wednesday 4th November, around 100 attendees tuned in to the APPG on Fisheries’ latest online event.

A panel of academic and industry experts spoke about what climate change means for the UK fishing sector – how the fleet will be affected, and how it can adapt.

The expert panel laid out the current and predicted effects of climate change on the UK fishing fleet, highlighting key issues such as changes to fish stock distributions and more frequent stormy weather. Presentations explored how collaboration between scientists and fishermen and effective forward planning can help build resilience within the sector. “Climate change is a serious challenge for the UK fishing industry that cannot be ignored,” said Sheryll Murray MP, Chair of the APPG on Fisheries. “It’s heartening to hear about scientists and fishermen working together to address it and prepare for the future.”

Scientists and fishermen alike have noticed shifts in species ranges over recent years, and research suggests there is more to come. Dr John Pinnegar, Principal Scientist and Lead Advisor on Climate Change at Cefas, presented first at the event. “Rises in sea temperature will lead to shifts in the distribution of species and hence the composition of catches among fishing vessels operating in UK waters,” he said. “Some species such as squid, red mullet, sardine and anchovy are predicted to become more abundant in UK waters, while others such as cod and herring are expected to decline.”

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Dr Tara Marshall, Senior Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen’s School of Biological Sciences, spoke about how climate change also impacts the life cycles of commercial seafood species. “The North Sea has become 1.5-2.0 degrees warmer over the past four decades,” she said. “Scientists have detected a wide range of physiological responses in species of commercial fish, including earlier spawning times and different rates of growth, both of which have decreased recruitment and yields.”As well as changes to fish stocks and their life cycles, weather patterns are also changing. “The noticeable increases in extreme weather events is already having an impact on when boats can go out and fish safely,” said Dr Steven Mackinson, Chief Scientific Officer for the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association. Dr John Pinnegar also commented, saying, “Disruption caused by severe storms can mean that vessels are tied up in port for lengthy periods, with implications for revenues, profits and local economies.”

Dr Angus Garrett, Head of Seafood Horizons at Seafish, gave advice on how science and industry can help build resilience within the sector. “Steps can be taken now to help industry adapt to potential changes ahead. These include close co-operation between industry and the research community, ensuring fisheries management is flexible to changes in UK waters, and that safety measures are in place on board vessels.” Adding to that, Dr Steven Mackinson had a message for businesses. “Adapting to possible climate effects requires fishing businesses to incorporate long-term thinking in their business planning,” he said.

There is also a role for consumers in helping the industry adapt. “British consumers tend to prefer species imported from further north, or elsewhere in the world. This is a mis-alignment with the fish available in the UK’s own waters,” said Dr John Pinnegar. “If UK consumers could be persuaded to switch their preferences, this could be very helpful to the UK fishing industry.”

Andrew Locker, Chair of the NFFO, rounded off the day’s presentations by speaking about fishermen’s direct experiences of climate change. He recalled how catches off Whitby diminished in the 1990s, leading to the decline of the town’s fishing and onshore seafood supply chain industries. Vessels had to travel further north to find fish, and consequently landed in Aberdeen instead. “The once-thriving coastal fishing communities such as Whitby became a shadow of their former selves,” he said during the meeting. He also observed that the seas had become stormier, especially in winter.

The event was recorded and is available on the APPG website, along with a summary of the panelists’ answers to questions from attendees. The APPG Secretariat will also publish a policy brief detailing the outputs and key messages for the event in the coming weeks. The APPG on Fisheries’ next event is on Staying Safe at Sea, and will take place on Tuesday 1 December at 11:00am. Sign up to their newsletter to be the first to hear about the event launch.


Dr John Pinnegar – Principal Scientist and Lead Advisor (Climate Change), Cefas

John gave an overview of the effects of climate change on fishing in UK waters, such as changes to stock distributions and weather patterns.

Dr Angus Garrett – Head of Seafood Horizons, Seafish

Angus discussed how the seafood industry and supply chains can incorporate climate change into future planning.

Dr Steven Mackinson – Chief Scientific Officer, Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association

Steven talked about the role of the pelagic fishing fleet in collecting information on the effects of climate change and collaborating with scientists.

Dr Tara Marshall – Senior Lecturer, School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen

Tara discussed how the demersal fishing fleet can help predict and prepare for the effects of climate change on fish stocks through collaborative efforts.

Andrew Locker – Chairman, National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations

Andrew gave a first-hand account of the effects of climate change on the fishing fleet, and how the fleet can respond to this.

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Fisheries APPG discusses climate change and the UK Fishing Sector

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