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Managing Fisheries to Cope with Climate Change

March 19, 2021
A new report offers solutions to help fishers adapt to changing oceans and fish stocks

The term climate change looms large in our society – and sometimes it can feel like a problem that is insurmountable.

But understanding the threat is the first step to overcoming it. We are better able to focus on solutions by taking a climate-resilient approach to managing our natural resources.

As part of the Environment Program’s new five-year strategy, the foundation aims to protect water resources in the face of climate change. In our oceans initiative, this mission includes bringing a climate-resilient approach to fisheries management plans and policies into the mainstream.

In simple terms, resilience is the ability of a system to rebound and adapt to change, including extreme shocks. To improve the climate resilience of a fishery, management and policy approaches must account for the potential climate impacts on a fishery stock and the people who rely upon it.

Fisheries will need to rebound and adapt to the climate impacts on species such as octopus, cod, pollock and snapper.

The changing climate can negatively affect fisheries in a variety of ways. As ocean temperatures change, fish begin to migrate away from their historic territories, potentially leaving fishing communities in crisis. Fish may also reproduce less and fishery stocks may decline.

Each of these impacts present unique threats to fishing communities and require different interventions. The foundation worked with EcoAdvisors to assess the climate vulnerabilities of six fisheries and identify potential ways to make them more resilient. The evaluation considered the ecological, social and technological aspects of each fishery system.

To reduce the impact on people and communities, the report cited the need for improved governance of fisheries and greater economic incentives to help fishers adapt. It will be important to conserve key oceans habitat to reduce the stress on fish populations and help maintain healthy stocks. Governments will also need to improve fisheries monitoring to better manage when and where fish are harvested.

For example, jumbo flying squid move their range across the waters of Peru, Chile and Mexico in response to environmental conditions. With climate change, this fishery will need to be managed by all three countries, with better and more coordinated monitoring and adaptive harvest control rules to support multi-jurisdictional governance.

Peru's jumbo squid fishery became more sustainable by improving fishing practices and regulatory compliance.

In Mexico, snapper and grouper stocks are vulnerable to the warming ocean and unsustainable fishing. To adapt, local fishers will need to start catching other types of fish in addition to snapper and grouper in order to ease the transition when these stocks are harder to find.

A black grouper swims in open water off the coast of Cancun, Mexico.

In Indonesia, governments will need to conduct additional vulnerability assessments to understand the potential climate effects on blue swimming crab. While the science catches up, the fishery can improve catch monitoring to understand the current status of the stock.

Finally, the standards for sustainable fishing and certification should be updated to include climate change and resilience considerations.

Fisheries systems need to build forward-looking, resilience-based approaches … to ensure that fisheries can thrive in the face of climate change.
Building Climate-Resilient Fisheries

The full report from EcoAdvisors provides additional details about climate resilience theory, the assessments of six fisheries and a range of interventions to increase their resiliency.

Tens of millions of people depend on healthy oceans and abundant seafood. The knowledge we’re gaining about the impacts of climate change on fisheries – and the ways fishers will need to adapt – will help inform our oceans work over the next five years.

Ultimately, this information can help protect water resources in the face of climate change to support healthier ecosystems and more vibrant communities for generations to come.

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