International Symposium on Fisheries Sustainability

Session 6

Fisheries Management in the face of a changing climate

FAO session lead: Manuel Barange

Speakers and panelists

Webcast link

Key messages

Capture fisheries is the only major food production industry that relies upon the sustainable exploitation of wild populations. These fisheries are therefore affected by natural fluctuations in resource abundance as a result of complex physical, biological and ecological interactions. As our monitoring, understanding and ability to respond to these fluctuations are, and will always be, incomplete, uncertainties are a fact of life in fisheries management and operations.

The increasingly dominant climate change signal in all natural ecosystems, including heat spikes and waves (Oliver et al. 2017), adds a new super challenge to fisheries management and to the way we deal with uncertainties. This is because fisheries management strategies have been largely constructed under the premise that populations fluctuate around a mean population size, where the biggest challenge is to formulate management actions that are sensitive to these natural and uncertain fluctuations and to the effects of fishing. If climate change results in unidirectional changes, for example in the abundance, distribution and life history of fishing resources, perhaps beyond the bounds of short-term variability, do we have the tools to adjust our management strategies accordingly?

Fisheries management is the process through which acceptable trade-offs between conservation and sustainable utilization are reached, taking uncertainties into account. In recent years, we have developed increasingly effective methods, tools and systems to reduce and address uncertainties that relate to short-term population dynamics and responses of management. These have evolved into two major approaches:

  1. Robust management approaches designed to perform well under a wide range of uncertainties.
  2. Adaptive management approaches, which favour a periodic evaluation and adjustment of decision-making tools, to take advantage of new knowledge

In both approaches the application of the precautionary approach, in which greater precaution is applied to address higher levels of uncertainty, has been widely recognised as being essential to ensure sustainable use and reduced risks. Drawing from our treatment of uncertainty in fisheries management, this session will explore:

  1. How can fisheries management pro-actively adjust to take into account climate change–driven trends in time to minimise negative impacts and maximise opportunities?
  2. What lessons have we learned from addressing short-term uncertainty in assessment and management, in both large and small-scale fisheries, that would be helpful in the search for appropriate solutions to the challenge of managing natural resources in the era of climate change?
  3. Can our growing understanding of uncertainty in long-term projections of climate change effects be effectively incorporated into contemporary management?
  4. Are there effective early warning systems of extreme events, such as marine heat waves, that can be used to improve the sustainable management of vulnerable resources? 

Furthermore, if fisheries management is about managing human activity:

  1. What are the larger consequences for not just determining catch levels and harvest strategies, but for the management of fisheries' value chains and the implications for humans dependent on a fishery?; and
  2. How do we develop solutions, or adapt existing approaches, for addressing climate change that are applicable to data-poor, capacity-limited fisheries?
  3. In the case of freshwater systems, how do we incorporate inland fisheries objectives in catchment, basin and regional water management plans to ensure this sector, and its dependent communities, are not left behind as climate change bites?

This session will focus on providing evidence on how to adjust fisheries management to account for gradual as well as non-linear climate-change driven changes in the abundance, distribution and seasonality of fish and fisheries resources, and the consequences of such adjustments for the sustainability of resources and dependent communities.

Examples may range from how to adjust management reference points to the development of new or existing co-management arrangements, including arrangements able to deal with new transboundary stocks, or consideration of shifts from species-based to assemblage-based output controls.

The session will not only deal with sophisticated solutions available to only a handful of resources and countries, but practical solutions that are applicable to inland as well as marine capture fisheries, and in data-poor situations. Specific examples of good practice, and of how to adjust strategies, will be particularly sought.

The outcomes of this session will support:

SDG 1 – Reduce poverty
SDG 2 – Food security
SDG 3 – Health and wellbeing
SDG 8 – Economic growth
SDG 11 – Resilient Coastal Cities
SDG 13 – Climate Change
SDG targets 14.2 & 14.3
SDG 16 – Effective institutions
SIDS Samoa Pathways
UNFCC Paris Agreement
FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries