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Climate change risks: Marine and Fisheries report highlights issues

26 January 2012

The Government published the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) today, the first assessment of its kind for the UK and the first in a five-year cycle.

The CCRA has reviewed the evidence for over 700 potential impacts of climate change in a UK context. Detailed analysis was undertaken for over 100 of these impacts across 11 key sectors, on the basis of their likelihood, the scale of their potential consequences and the urgency with which action may be needed to address them.

Scientists from Cefas' Marine Climate Change Centre (the MC3) were lead authors for the Marine and Fisheries sector report.

Their detailed analysis has highlighted not only the risks but in some cases potential gains that could result from changing climatic conditions. For instance:

Biodiversity and ecosystems

  • There may be serious consequences for the way marine ecosystems function. Rates of "carbon cycling" could divert resources away from seabed species therefore disrupting food webs and, potentially, fisheries.
  • A number of species, including certain seabirds and invasive non-native plants and animals, may establish themselves in the UK for the first time while others may disappear.

Marine transport

  • Reductions in polar sea ice may affect the habitats for animals and indigenous people that rely on the frozen environment to survive.
  • Shrinking sea ice opens up two potentially key shipping routes in the summer: the North West Passage and the North East Passage to the Pacific and Asia. These short-cuts will offer quicker journeys, lower fuel costs and the avoidance of Suez and Panama Canal fees.
  • If winter weather becomes rougher around the UK this may cause more frequent disruption to ferry services off of Scotland and across the Irish Sea. Temporary port closures, damage to cargo and increased costs of maintaining navigation channels are other potential outcomes.


  • A range of species and ecosystems are vulnerable to ocean acidification, when the seas absorb carbon dioxide (CO2). There might be serious economic implications for commercial shellfish species in particular.
  • Rising sea temperatures may lead to the continuing northwards shift in the distribution patterns of some species of fish and shellfish. This might result in some species becoming more abundant in UK waters, offering new fishing opportunities.
  • Climate change may have a negative impact on some species (e.g. cod and haddock) but a positive effect on others (e.g. plaice and sole).

Health and disease

  • Contaminated shellfish have been implicated in some outbreaks of the "winter vomiting " norovirus amongst humans. Increased frequency of intense rainfall events caused by climate change may increase sewer-spill frequency and heighten such risks.
  • Rising sea temperatures have been associated with increases in illness associated with blooms of naturally occuring but harmful marine algae.

Producing the CCRA has involved a high degree of consultation and review. The independent analysis was funded by UK Government and Devolved Governments and has been delivered through a consortium of organisations led by HR Wallingford.The outputs have been extensively peer-reviewed by scientific and economics experts, an independent international peer-review panel, and have also been scrutinised by the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change.

The outputs provide an evidence base that can be used by central Government and Devolved Administrations in identifying priorities for action and appropriate adaptation measures that will be required to minimise risks to our economy, environment and society. A consultation process for the National Adaptation Programme has also been launched today.

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Last Modified: 27 April 2014