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Coastal zone management needs to be taken into consideration when dealing with climate change
Coastal zone management needs to be taken into consideration when dealing with climate change
Courtesy of NOAA

Natural variation obscures effects

An overarching concern is that society will not recognize the effects of climate change because the natural variability of the marine environment and fisheries production is so great. Only in the last few years has it become clear that there are climate patterns of a decadal scale that affect production on a ocean basin scale, perhaps even globally for some species. Will global climate affect the frequency of these natural oscillations, or change their magnitude? At present, there is no answer. However, society has the opportunity to monitor the environmental changes and learn about their effects, so that better production forecasts can be made for the use of fisheries managers.

Positive and negative effects

Whether or not the climate changes, there are several actions that can be considered. Most important among the strategies are those needed to promote sustainability and are useful and practical, even in the absence of climate change. Further, when developing strategies, we need to consider both the problems and the opportunities that are being presented.

Changes in stocks

Foremost for capture fisheries is the development of national and international scale resource management regimes, and associated monitoring systems, that are able to compensate for shifting amounts and distribution of fisheries. Great advances have been made in recent decades to develop ocean-wide and regional fishery management bodies. More work needs to be done in building their effectiveness, including the ability to deal with stocks that move between national borders and between EEZs and the open ocean. These bodies need to consider both the conservation of the species and the welfare of the people who depend on them for income and for food. It is much easier to reach agreement on shifting stocks before the change takes place.

Coastal zone management

In near-coastal areas, it is important to consider the needs of fisheries, and marine species in general, when designing coastal zone management plans or specifications to cope with a changing climate. For example, if coastal protection measures against a rising sea include coastal dams, there can be no inland movement of beaches and marshes that are critical to many species' reproduction. Careful planning is necessary to meet the needs of marine life and of coastal infrastructure and agriculture.

Human Health, harmful algal blooms & pollution adaptations

To reduce the possibility of impacts on humans and on marine life from a possible increased prevalence of marine pathogens and toxins such as cholera, ciguatera and red tides, health authorities should consider increased monitoring and prospective actions that might be taken. The possible actions may include reducing the nutrients entering the marine environment. Authorities also to be alert to the release of pollutants due to a rising sea level

Buoys measure ocean temperature at varying depths as part of a research project
Buoys measure ocean temperature at varying depths as part of a research project
Courtesy of NOAA

Use of aquaculture

In some situations, aquaculture may be useful as a vehicle to stabilize food supplies and employment. With careful consideration of the impacts, it could also be used in its ocean ranching form, as when young fish are released into the ocean for growth and later harvesting to augment wild stocks.


Foster interdisciplinary research, with scientists meeting periodically to exchange information on observations and research results, and meeting with managers to ensure the proper interpretation of results and the relevance of research.

Infrastructure adaptations

In responding to shifting populations and species, it is expected that the industry will respond with faster, longer range fishing craft, install on-board processing equipment, or use floating processors when feasible, and find alternative means of transport when coastal roads are flooded, and relocation is not possible. Governments should also consider constructing and maintaining appropriate infrastructure for storm forecasting, signalling systems and safe refuges for dealing with possible rising sea level and increased storminess. There may be opportunities to take advantage of reduced need for ice strengthening of vessels and infrastructures in a warmer climate, except perhaps for areas with increased icebergs.


In adapting to climate change, aquaculturists should consider the following:

  • Warming will mean generally longer growing seasons and increased rates of biological processes and often of production.
  • Warming will require greater attention to possible oxygen depletion.
  • In some areas, the species grown may have to shift to those more tolerant of warmer and perhaps less-oxygenated waters.
  • Coastal culture facilities may need to consider the impacts of sea-level rise on facilities and the freeing of contaminants from nearby waste sites.
  • Competing wild fisheries production (and indeed, agriculture) may not vary much at the world level, but there could be significant regional changes in quantity and species mix.
  • Precipitation, freshwater flows, and lake levels will likely change. Strong regional variations are likely.
  • Warming waters could introduce disease organisms or exotic or undesired species before compensating mechanisms or intervention strategies have become established.
  • Less ice cover and thinner ice will generally mean less ice damage to facilities and a longer season for production and maintenance.
  • Covering culture tanks, or keeping them indoors under controlled light, may be needed more often to protect larvae from solar UV-B.
  • Several of the above and other factors, such as competing demand for coastal areas, may argue for technological intensification in ponds and non-coastal facilities.
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