Fisheries and aquaculture in a changing climate

Fisheries and aquaculture are important contributors to food security and livelihoods. Fish provide essential nutrition for 3 billion people and 50 per cent of protein and essential minerals for 400 million people, mainly in poor countries (FAO, 2014). Many poor rural people rely on fisheries and aquaculture as their primary source of income and food security. Fisheries also contribute to household resilience and a reduced vulnerability to natural hazards and economic uncertainty.

What is the issue?

Climate change is having a devastating effect on the sea.

90 per cent of the heat being produced as a result of climate change is stored in the oceans, with 60 per cent in the upper 600m of surface waters,” said Manuel Barange, Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture at FAO.

The surface waters are where all the resources live. Climate change is bleaching corals, raising sea level, increasing the temperature and changing the pH of the oceans. None of this is good news for the myriad of life which calls the ocean home, or the people who rely on it.

But it is not always negative; climate change can also affect areas in positive ways. In colder regions temperature rises actually lead to an increase in production, but in the tropics, it can lead to death, migration, lower yields and changes in species. Species migration will lead to the greatest reductions in catches from inshore coastal waters where small-scale fishers operate.

“Species have temperature tolerance windows, when the temperature changes, they have only two options, move with the window or stay. Staying can have devastating effects, skewered distributions, changes in reproduction seasons, and death. Changes in reproduction seasons means that our current management tools, such as closure of fishing grounds in reproduction season, will no longer be effective,” Added Barange.

When it comes to the species on coral reefs – the reef cannot move – so when the temperature changes the negatively affected habitat disappears.

IFAD knows that we don’t know everything, but we know enough to act.

What can we do?

Fish is crucial for food security. More fish is eaten than pork, than chicken. With twelve per cent of the world depending on fisheries, how do we support communities and families through these changes?

We need to promote adaptation techniques, disseminate knowledge and put into practice other climate smart solutions. These can vary massively depending on the location. Fisheries can change the species they catch, to more abundant or local species. New innovative equipment can be made available, which limits the fisheries impact on the oceans. Alternatively, fisheries can reduce theirs yields, but opt for a higher quality of fish which would enable their incomes to be least affected.

In Djibouti, IFAD has tackled the problem as part of its US$ 55 million portfolio there, making fisheries a key element of its natural resource management program. Results are already positive: IFAD’s management and protection of over 50 per cent of local coastal habitats as well as some 70 per cent of local coral reefs has improved abundance of species, and generated better reliability in capture rate. 

Further, IFAD has designed geospatial mapping systems to monitor key ecosystems, such as mangrove forests and coral reefs, geared towards supporting healthy fisheries’ value chains. These geospatial tools have already provided a more precise picture of the country’s mangroves, which protect coastal communities from climate hazards. 


“Right now, the Government in Djibouti is using this information to take the next steps: Rehabilitating mangroves and fish breeding grounds, while providing fishing communities with credit to buy boats and equipment,” said IFAD's Jacopo Monzini.


Whilst the answer is not one hundred per cent clear Barange is sure that, “any solution will need to include the migration of people, and we need to facilitate that migration. At certain times, people will need to travel to where the fish are.“

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