Impacts of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture – synthesis of current knowledge, adaptation and mitigation options

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement recognizes the need for effective and progressive responses to the urgent threat of climate change, through mitigation and adaptation measures, while taking into account the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems. The inclusion of adaptation measures in the fisheries and aquaculture sector is currently hampered by a widespread lack of targeted analyses of the sector’s vulnerabilities to climate change and associated risks, as well as the opportunities and responses available. This report provides the most up-to-date information on the disaggregated impacts of climate change for marine and inland fisheries, and aquaculture, in the context of poverty alleviation and the differential dependency of countries on fish and fishery resources.

The work is based on model projections, data analyses, as well as national, regional and basin-scale expert assessments. The results indicate that climate change will lead to significant changes in the availability and trade of fish products, with potentially important geopolitical and economic consequences, especially for those countries most dependent on the sector. In marine regions model projections suggest decreases in maximum catch potential in the world’s exclusive economic zones of between 2.8 percent and 5.3 percent by 2050 according to greenhouse gas emission scenario RCP2.6, and between 7.0 percent and 12.1 percent according to greenhouse gas emission scenario RCP8.5, also by 2050. While at the global scale this average is not particularly large, the impacts are much greater at regional scale, because projected changes in catch potential vary substantially between regions. Although estimates are subject to significant variability, the biggest decreases can be expected in the tropics, mostly in the South Pacific regions. For the high latitude regions, catch potential is projected to increase, or show less of a decrease than in the tropics. It is important to note that these projections only reflect changes in the capacity of the oceans to produce fish, and do not consider the management decisions that may or may not be taken in response. It is concluded that the interaction between ecosystem changes and management responses is crucial to minimize the threats and maximize the opportunities emerging from climate change. Production changes are partly a result of expected shifts in the distribution of species, which are likely to cause conflicts between users, both within and between countries. The vulnerability of marine fisheries to climate change and existing and potential responses to adapt to the changes are examined in more detail for 13 different marine regions covering a range of ecological, social and economic conditions. It is concluded that adaptations to climate change must be undertaken within the multifaceted context of fisheries, with any additional measures or actions to address climate change complementing overall governance for sustainable use. It is recognized that some of these measures will require institutional adaptation. In relation to inland fisheries the Technical Paper highlights that in the competition for scarce water resources the valuable contributions of inland fisheries are frequently not recognized or undervalued. The Paper assesses country by country impacts and provides indications of whether levels of stress are expected to change and to what extent. Pakistan, Iraq, Morocco and Spain are highlighted as countries that are currently facing high stresses that are projected to become even higher in the future. Myanmar, Cambodia, the Congo, the Central African Republic and Colombia, are among the countries that were found to be under low stress at present and are projected to remain under low stress in the future. The implications of climate change for individuals, communities and countries will depend on their exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity, but in general they can be expected to be significant. Some positive impacts are also identified, like increased precipitation leading to the expansion and improved connectivity between some fish habitats, but to take advantage of them, new investments as well as flexibility in policies, laws and regulations, and post-harvest processes are needed. It is recommended that adaptive management measures be within the framework of an ecosystem approach to fisheries to maximize success. Short-term climate change impacts on aquaculture can include losses of production and infrastructure arising from extreme events such as floods, increased risks of diseases, parasites and harmful algal blooms. Long-term impacts can include reduced availability of wild seed as well as reduced precipitation leading to increasing competition for freshwater. Viet Nam, Bangladesh, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and China were estimated to be the most vulnerable countries in Asia, with Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica and Ecuador the most vulnerable in the Americas, for freshwater aquaculture. Uganda, Nigeria and Egypt were found to be particularly vulnerable in Africa. In the case of brackish water production, Viet Nam, Egypt and Thailand emerged as having the highest vulnerabilities. For marine aquaculture, Norway and Chile were identified as being the most vulnerable, due to their high production, although China, Viet Nam, the Philippines and Madagascar were also considered to be highly vulnerable. Climatedriven changes in temperature, precipitation, ocean acidification, incidence and extent of hypoxia and sea level rise, amongst others, are expected to have long-term impacts in the aquaculture sector at multiple scales. Options for adaptation and resilience building are offered, noting that interactions between aquaculture, fisheries and agriculture can either exacerbate the impacts or help create solutions for adaptation. The Technical Paper also investigates the impacts of extreme events, as there is growing confidence that their number is on the increase in several regions, and is related to anthropogenic climate change. Climate-related disasters now account for more than 80 percent of all disaster events, with large social and economic impacts.  Not all extreme events necessarily result in a disaster, and the extent of their impacts on fisheries and aquaculture will depend on how exposed and vulnerable the socio-ecological systems are as well as their capacity to respond. An often unrecognized impact of climate change is on food safety, for example through changes in the growth rates of pathogenic marine bacteria, or on the incidence of parasites and food-borne viruses. Climate change may also bring increased risks for animal health, particularly in the rapidly growing aquaculture sector, for example by changing the occurrence and virulence of pathogens or the susceptibility of the organisms being cultured to pathogens and infections. Effective biosecurity plans that emphasize prevention are essential. In the final sections the Technical Paper recognizes that the impacts of climate change on the fisheries and aquaculture sector will be determined by the sector’s ability to adapt. Guidance on the tools and methods available to facilitate and strengthen such adaptation is provided.  Because each specific fishery or fishery/aquaculture enterprise exists within unique contexts, climate change adaptations must start with a good understanding of a given fishery or aquaculture system and a reliable assessment of potential future climate change. The Paper provides information on the tools available to inform decision-makers of particular adaptation investments and of the process to develop and implement adaptation strategies. It presents examples of tools within three primary adaptation entries: institutional and management, those addressing livelihoods and, thirdly, measures intended to manage and mitigate risks and thereby strengthen resilience. It is noted that adaptation should be implemented as an ongoing and iterative process, equivalent in many respects to adaptive management in fisheries. Finally, the contributions of the sector to global emissions of carbon dioxide are presented. Globally, fishing vessels (including inland vessels) emitted 172.3 million tonnes of CO2 in 2012, about 0.5 percent of total global CO2 emissions that year. For the aquaculture industry, it was estimated that 385 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2 e) was emitted in 2010, around 7 percent of those from agriculture. While the sector is a small contributor, options for reducing fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions are identified. In the case of capture fisheries, reductions of between 10 percent and 30 percent could be attained through use of efficient engines, larger propellers, as well as through improving vessel shapes or simply by reducing the mean speed of vessels. There are also opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in aquaculture, which include improved technologies to increase efficiency, use of renewable energy sources, and improving feed conversion rates, among others. The Technical Paper highlights the multifaceted and interconnected complexity of fisheries and aquaculture, through which direct and indirect impacts of climate change will materialize. Efforts to adapt to and mitigate climate change should be planned and implemented with full consideration of this complexity. Failure to do so would increase inefficiency and maladaptation, exacerbating rather than reducing impacts. Finally, the Technical Paper is a reminder of the critical importance of fisheries and aquaculture for millions of people struggling to maintain reasonable livelihoods through the sector. These are the people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and particular attention needs to be given to them while designing adaptation measures if the sector is to continue to contribute to meeting global goals of poverty reduction and food security.

Barange M., Bahri T., Beveridge M. C. M., Cochrane K. L., Funge-Smith S. & Poulain F., 2018. Impacts of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture; synthesis of current knowledge, adaptation and mitigation options. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper 627, 628 p. Report.

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