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Hot, hungry, gasping for air – our fish at risk

Press release Under embargo 0001 GMT 18 November 2005

Hot, hungry and gasping for air – our fish are at risk, warns WWF

Fish are increasingly threatened by the effects of climate change as temperatures rise in rivers, lakes and oceans, says a new WWF report. Hotter water means less food, less offspring and even less oxygen for marine and freshwater fish.

A week ahead of a key Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Montreal, the global conservation organisation’s report Are we putting our fish in hot water? shows that warmer waters, and changes in rainfall, currents and sea level are associated with global warming and are already affecting the world’s fish and fisheries.

“At this year’s meeting the New Zealand government must start negotiations for deeper cuts in CO2 emissions once the current commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012,” says Melanie Hutton, Climate Change spokesperson for WWF-New Zealand. “The balance is set to tip as climate change continues to put pressure on fish populations already strained by overfishing, pollution, and habitat loss.”

The report shows that hotter temperatures are expected to stunt the growth of some fish, resulting in fewer offspring and possibly causing some species to not spawn at all. Fish populations could move to cooler waters in an effort to stay in a temperature that is normal for their habitat, threatening other species that are dependent on them as a food source. And freshwater fish may not have enough oxygen to breathe.

In New Zealand, studies suggest changes in climate could not only significantly impact fish, but species that rely on them.

WWF-New Zealand’s marine conservation team says that the warming of the Tasman sea since 1997 may have affected the food supply of young hoki, causing them to starve to death before reaching adulthood. The catches of the fishery have been in decline since then.

New Zealand scientists have also linked the crash of the Rockhopper Penguin population at New Zealand’s subantarctic islands to the influence of rising sea temperatures. In scarcely 40 years the number of breeding Rockhopper Penguins on Campbell Island declined 94% from 1.6 million to 103,000 birds. Recent NIWA research revealed that while the penguins maintained their diet over this period, penguins were unable to find enough food in a less productive marine ecosystem during recent decades.

“Unless governments slow the rate and extent of climate change we will increase the pressures on fish and the billions of people who depend on them as an important source of protein,” says Ms Hutton.



1 New Zealand controls the world’s 4th largest coastal fishing zone, earning over $1.3 billion a year in exports, employs around 10,000 people and supplies an increasing portion of New Zealand’s national diet. Worldwide, marine and freshwater fisheries generate over US$130 billion annually, employ at least 200 million people, and feed billions of people reliant on fish as an important source of protein.

2. For a copy of the brochure, Are we putting our fish in hot water?, and for the full scientific reports on “climate change and freshwater fish” and “climate change and marine fish”, as well as the five regional case studies (Australia, India, South Africa, the Mediterranean and the southeast United States) go to http://www.panda.org/climate/fish.

3. A WWF Media Advisory on the 1st Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, held at the same time as the 11th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, can be found at http://www.panda.org/climate/Kyoto1, along with other related documents.

4. The European Union, other governments and many civil society groups have committed themselves to keeping the rise of global average temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

5. For climate change B-roll footage contact Tanya Petersen, Head of TV, WWF International, t +41 22 364 9565, email tpetersen@wwfint.org.

6. For more information on WWF-New Zealand’s Climate Change Campaign go to http://www.wwf.org.nz/climatechange.

7. For more information on WWF-New Zealand’s Sustainable Fisheries Programme go to http://www.wwf.org.nz/conservation/SustainableFisheries.

8. For more information on WWF’s Global Climate Change Programme go to http://www.panda.org/climate and PowerSwitch! Campaign got to http://www.panda.org/powerswitch.

WWF is now known simply by its initials and the panda logo

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