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Marine systems are undergoing rapid environmental change, with some of the largest climate-driven changes happening in the Southern Hemisphere. We are researching the impact of these threats on fisheries and aquaculture to ensure a sustainable industry.

The challenge

Meeting Australia’s fishing needs

An estimated 500 million people around the world rely on fisheries to provide their essential protein and dietary nutrients, whilst global models predict declining seafood stocks in tropical regions, where people can least afford alternative foods. 

Mitigating the impact of climate change is critical for a sustainable fishing industry

Fisheries and aquaculture are important industries in Australia, both economically (gross value over A$2.5 billion) and socially. Climate-driven changes – such as warming ocean temperatures and acidification – are impacting the distribution and abundance of fish, and could have significant implications for our marine environment and its resources.


Our response

Climate impacts on fisheries and aquaculture

We contributed to a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation Report on the impacts of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture, including our latest research on the Australian marine environment. With seafood changes being a global concern, more than 90 experts from 20 countries contributed to the report.

Our research shows that Australia’s marine ecosystems and commercial fisheries are already being affected by climate change. Waters off south-east and south-west Australia are particular ‘hotspots’, and our tropical ocean is also warming almost twice as fast as the average for the rest of the world. 

Experts from across Australia have rated sensitivity of more than 100 fished species to climate change based on the life-history traits of the species, with results finding that 70% of assessed species have moderate to high sensitivity. 

Over 100 Australian marine species have started migrating south and marine heatwaves and other extreme events have harmed Australia’s seagrass, kelp forests, mangroves and coral reefs. 

As fish abundance and distribution changes, predation and competition within food webs will be affected, which could result in changing marine ecosystems. 

The results

Securing the future of our marine resources

Our research indicates that Australian fisheries are in a robust position to cope with the impacts of climate change – including less than 15 percent of Australia’s assessed fisheries overfished, with an improving trend.

Australian marine environment effects from climate change

Using climate sensitivity analysis and ecosystem models, we are helping managers and fishers mitigate predicted variability of the marine environment and prepare for change. 

To support ecosystem, industry and policy adaptation, it is important to consider:

  • fish behaviour and distributions, and the effect on abundance
  • identifying sensitive species and fisheries
  • policy, management and assessment methods for both long-term changes and extreme events
  • agile management responses in areas of rapid climate change
  • the possible need for fisheries to target new species
  • consumers changing the species they are happy to purchase
  • managing ecosystems spanning state and national boundaries 
  • coordination between fisheries management and conservation.

Australian impacts and adaptation research on fisheries has been guided by the Marine National Adaptation Research Plan, and the National Action Plan for Fisheries, and aims to support ecosystem, industry and policy adaptation.

We are continuing to work with researchers and organisations across Australia to mitigate the impacts of climate change for the fishing industry to provide sustainable seafood into the future.


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