Toward best practices for climate-resilient fishery management

In response to growing alarm regarding the effects of climate change on fisheries, the government of Canada demonstrated valuable global leadership recently.

In partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans hosted an international expert workshop to document practices that can be taken to help fisheries adapt to climate effects, with the intention of sharing these examples for the benefit of global society. This workshop, held in November of 2019, culminated in the development of a report recently released by the Food and Agriculture Organization, titled “Adaptive management of fisheries in response to climate change.”

EDF is happy to have played a part in this important workshop and document, which adds to the growing list of resources that describe how fisheries can be adapted to respond to the effects of climate change, including science, management, governance and stakeholder-based adaptations. The report includes a compendium of 15 different approaches for adapting fisheries to climate change. Some of the highlights in this report are:

  • Prioritize development of fishery management systems where they are currently undeveloped: Without a sound fishery management foundation, it will prove difficult for fisheries to respond to climate change.
  • Foster the development of institutions which enhance the rate of adaptation, particularly co-management institutions: Adapting rapidly to unforeseen events will be a key aspect of climate adaptation. Co-management institutions can move more quickly than centralized institutions and tailor adaptations to local contexts. In addition to co-management institutions, investments in early warning systems can provide indication of change before the implications are fully felt and allow for adaptations to occur.
  • Incorporate climate into stock assessment science where possible. Where this is not possible, establish measures like harvest control rules that are resilient to climate risks: Being able to anticipate how climate change will affect stocks such as via target reference points helps fishery managers and stakeholders to manage for climate change effects. However, when doing so is not possible, harvest control rules can be put in place, which reduce undetected climate risks and foster resilience of a fishery.
  • Allow monitoring and evaluation systems to evolve to track climate effects: Stock movement and other climate effects mean that monitoring and evaluation systems, like stock surveys, will need to adapt to follow fish stocks of interest and enable the support of sound science advice for management.
  • Allow for flexibility in fishing practices, targets and location: Being mindful that flexibility should not be confused with less management, flexibility that allows for transitions in target species, fishing locations and times will be necessary as climate change takes hold.
  • Increase the speed of adaptive responses: Climate change may bring about impacts that we are not able to foresee and adequately plan for ahead of time. This means that we will need to adjust and adapt fisheries rapidly in response to unforeseen events to minimize adverse ecological and socioeconomic consequences.
  • Diversify sources of catch and create new product forms to hedge against social and economic consequences: Climate brings more variability and uncertainty over catch levels, which can have social and economic consequences. Diversification and the creation of new, higher valued product forms can help hedge against such variability.

These are just a few of the key recommendations in the report, and indications are that future efforts by the FAO and Canada will work to add to the knowledge base outlined by this report. In addition to these efforts, several organizations have been working to identify how to manage fisheries in the face of climate change and to capture these lessons for the benefit of others. This includes the work of the EDF Oceans program.

Over the last few years, EDF has been working on the development of climate resilience in several corners of the globe, including in the Humboldt Current and in Myanmar. These multi-year efforts culminated in the development of two reports that we recently released that contain recommendations for governments and stakeholders wishing to build fishery systems that are resilient to climate change. I invite you to review these materials and to get in touch if you have questions or reactions to them.

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