Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Climate-Smart fisheries and aquaculture

Production and Resources

Strategic climate-smart approaches for fisheries and aquaculture

Chapter B4.4 described the three main objectives of climate-smart approaches for fisheries and aquaculture. To create an effective framework to meet these objectives, these thematic areas need to be addressed at a range of strategic scales and levels. The following practical and operational options can be considered and grouped according to their different entry points and scales. At this stage, the list of options is not exhaustive. They will be developed and detailed further as experience is gained and best practices become more clearly established.

B4 - 5.1 National and regional level approaches

  • To meet the growing demand for food, the sustained long-term production of all food types, including fish and seafood, must be secure. In the case of capture fisheries, this requires sustaining the fisheries natural resource base and involves making accurate assessments of these resources and aquatic ecosystems. The scientific methods and capacity for such assessments need to be greatly expanded, especially in developing countries. Assessments should focus not only on higher-value species and larger fish, but also on all fish species of all sizes that contribute to food security and nutrition.
  • Build the capacity for developing strategic national and international initiatives that combine mitigation and adaptation activities, including disaster risk reduction and disaster risk management, in the fisheries and aquaculture sector. Link this work with programmes in other sectors and other areas of development, and with funding mechanisms, including those directed to climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gas. Define the most critical approaches and timelines for mobilizing actions and establish indicators for proposed outcomes.
  • Develop practical perspectives on national and regional aquatic food supply potentials under climate change scenarios to help shape economic and trade strategies. This would address the following questions: Are adaptation costs too high for production and profits to be ensured? Is it strategically more effective to increase imports or invest in production elsewhere? If supply potential is increased for example through the movement of stocks, growth conditions for aquaculture, other locational advantages, what sort of investment is required to benefit from this, and what might be the trade and value-added opportunities?
  • Carry out strategic analyses and develop institutional and human capital. Identify potential sources of data and information. Gain a better understanding of decision-making at various levels. Develop awareness, preparedness and skills. Improve political interactions. Develop risk-related financial instruments that focus on markets and fisheries and aquaculture products to increase flexibility in supply and demand, and strengthen the resilience of the sector to ensure it can deliver a sufficient supply.
  • Mainstream climate change adaptation strategies related to fisheries and aquaculture, and food and nutrition security, into all aquaculture and fisheries policies and actions at national and subnational levels. This includes linking these strategies to agencies responsible for climate and weather research and predictions, undertaking specific studies and introducing, where needed, flexibility in management and governance mechanisms (HLPE, 2014).
  • Engage in inclusive dialogue and analysis to build scenarios of the possible impacts climate change will have on food security and nutrition in the most vulnerable zones (e.g. coastal areas and SIDS) and develop and implement the appropriate responses through inclusive processes (HLPE, 2014).

B4 - 5.2 Strategic approaches for industry

  • Assess and define strategic investments, particularly regarding infrastructure for protecting and improving production capacities and the supply chain. Define tradeoffs between ‘hard’ engineering strategies, which would cover classic infrastructure, (e.g. roads, harbours, power supply, market and processing facilities and services) and macro-level aquaculture protection (e.g water supply and drainage systems) and ‘soft’ strategies in which adaptation actions would be done with minimal expenditures on infrastructure.
  • Define and develop landscape-level interactions with other sectors that address hydrological planning, coastal protection, and their relationships with aquatic habitats. Define and establish rules, tools and models for achieving this integration in ways that cover biochemical, ecological and social issues. 
  • Provide strategic opportunities for innovative forms of integration, such as managed aquatic systems and habitats that are linked with the generation of renewable energy and other aspects of energy production and consumption.
  • Undertake subsector initiatives to identify and promote best practices, formulate resilient supply strategies, and carry out focused research and development to reduce risk.

B4 - 5.3 Local approaches

  • Carry out an analyse the local social, economic and policy context, which should cover, among other things, the economic status of various stakeholders; their livelihood options; human, social and financial capital; the institutional environment; and options for capacity building.
  • Use capital and operating cost models to explore the implications of the different potential impacts of climate change (e.g. incidence and levels of flooding, rainfall and water exchange, temperature, salinity, algal blooms, and disease transmission). Generate viability profiles under different scenarios, and where relevant, develop location-based risk maps, using, for example, geographic information systems. 
  • Identify the practical aspects of risk reduction, which would include modifications in physical structures and storm and flood protection, changes in operating strategies, environmental management, diversified and segmented supply chains, cross-sectoral investments, a diversified mix of species, input options and markets. Link old knowledge to new options and build capacities.
  • Where necessary, define and specify options for relocation, opportunities for policy interventions and investment, alternatives for sustainable livelihoods and possibilities for diversification.

Individuals and communities 

  • Identify stakeholders and their roles and dependences, their key risks and options, and their connections to current and emerging development initiatives.
  • Define and develop local learning processes and mechanisms for exchanging information that can be validated with clear performance indicators.
  • Develop and use information and communication technologies for the exchanges of ideas, information and potential options. Where possible, establish relationships with other communities to allow for a comparison of experiences and the development of good practices.
  • Support effective participation of all stakeholders in cross-sectoral negotiations and planning processes.
  • Develop external partnerships to provide specific technical and social support, investment and resilience building.

B4 - 5.4 International markets and policies to build value chain resiliency

Event though there have been considerable efforts in the international community to negotiate agreements for responsible ocean and resource management and use, the sustainable use of aquatic resources remains a critical issue. The importance of the issue is reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): SDG14 focuses on oceans and SDG12 focuses on promoting sustainable production and consumption. It is not only fish stocks and aquatic ecosystems that are at stake. Vulnerable communities with few resources and the many related activities along the food value chain (e.g. marketing, distribution, transport, processing) depend heavily on fisheries and aquaculture resources, and as such, face substantial economic losses from declines in productivity of capture fisheries and aquaculture brought about by climate change. 

The first step in promoting sustainable fisheries markets and trade is to ensure that products are produced in a sustainable agricultural system right at the beginning of the supply chain. The FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries explicitly states that one of its aims is to promote “responsible international trade”. However, twenty years after its adoption, many developing countries report that they are still struggling to fully implement the principles of the Code of Conduct. There has been a steady growing global demand and prices have risen for most commercially traded fish species, which has encouraged the development of fish export channels, as well as illegal fishing in national jurisdictions and on the high seas. IUU fishing has increased dramatically over the last decade, especially for high-value species, such as tuna, in the areas beyond national jurisdictions, and species, such as rays and sharks, that are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Evidence from countries indicates that the implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the ecosystem approach to fisheries and aquaculture management is not keeping pace with the pressures to meet the growing demand in international markets for fish and fishery products. 

Climate change is expected to exacerbate the problems caused by unsustainable fisheries governance and trade practices. The dramatically rising share of fish exports from developing countries, which improves livelihoods and increases tax revenues, but also threatens the environment, is unsustainable. The full implications of climate change for international trade of fish and fishery products are not well known and require further study. Research at regional and national levels is especially needed to understand the links between changes in the abundance and distribution of resources and fisheries and aquaculture production. Once changes in production are fully understood, extrapolation to markets and trade flows can be made to highlight the potential winners and losers from climate-induced resource shifts, which have been reasonably well documented at the global level. 

Clearly, climate change will increase uncertainties and raise risks in the supply of products from both inland and marine capture fisheries, at least until communities are able to adapt to changes in resource distribution. Rising temperatures in ponds and along coastal shelves, the increased incidence of disease due to higher temperatures, and higher incidence of escapes caused by severe weather episodes are also putting aquaculture at risk. Extreme weather events and sea level rise are anticipated to impact fisheries-related infrastructure, such as ports and fleets, which will further increase the costs of fishing, processing and trade (Chomo and DeYoung, 2015; ICTSD). 

The expected impacts of climate change have the potential to alter the distribution of fisheries production, the competitiveness of exports and, ultimately, world trade patterns. While some regions may gain from expected resource shifts, others will have to make major adjustments, which may put the sustainability of some livelihoods at risk. Climate-induced movements in aquatic species used in the fisheries and aquaculture sector will demand that adaptation measure be undertaken at all stages of the seafood value chain (production, processing, marketing, exporting and importing), to cope with changing local and regional supplies.

Merino et al. (2012) have developed a model to estimate the impacts of climate change on capture fisheries production. The model predicts a six percent increase in potential yield from large commercially-valuable fish stocks by 2050, but this would not keep pace with expected rate of population growth. The authors propose that aquaculture could fill the gap between future supply and demand. However, intensification of aquaculture production will require technological advances to ensure that the increased production does not harm the environment. 

Another study by Barange et al. (2014) has optimistic projections that global fish supplies will be able to meet rising global demand in 2050, but not without possible negative impacts on vulnerable regions. In response to a redistribution of resources resulting from climate change, trade patterns may need to change in order to deliver products from regions producing a surplus to those facing deficits. It is likely, however, that the deficit regions will not have enough financial resources to pay for these imports. 

Production conditions differ around the world, and local adaptation responses will be needed. Further research and data collection is required at the national and subnational levels to ensure that model projections are useful for the policy-makers who are responsible for allocating limited financial resources to assist vulnerable communities. 

  • Linking early predictions with production and eventually trade flows will require significant research efforts, especially in moving from global analyses to regional and national level studies. 
  • There needs to be more flexibility in existing management tools used by national governments and regional fisheries management organizations to open up adequate policy space for countries to adapt to changes in resource availability under climate change. 

Fisheries subsidies that lead to overcapacity of global fishing fleets need to be rationalized to deal with their distorting effects on trade and their impact on resources. This discussion is ongoing within the World Trade Organization’s Doha Development Round and will hopefully lead to a more sustainable multilateral trade policies for capture fisheries.

B4 - 5.5 Transitioning to climate-smart agriculture

The definition and validation of climate-smart agriculture approaches for fisheries and aquaculture are in the early phases of development and dissemination. Applied research and practical solutions were shared at the first international conference on adaptation to climate change in the fisheries and aquaculture sector (FishAdapt, Bangkok, Thailand, 22-24 August, 2016). This FAO conference highlighted case studies describing the innovative means fishers and aquaculture producers have adopted to adapt to climate change; the support national governments have provide to the sector; and efforts regional and global stakeholders have made to address the issue. The conference also emphasized the need for additional FishAdapt conferences with a stronger focus on measuring local resource changes in productivity and formulating post-harvest policies to build resilience in seafood value chains. 

There is little experience that can be used as a widely tested foundation for good practices, but a number of underlying principles have been identified and applied for defining concepts and measuring progress towards meeting agreed objectives. To assess the progress being made to achieve climate-smart agriculture, it is important to select and use practical indicators that address the shared needs for relevance, accuracy, accessibility and cost-effectiveness. It is also useful to apply generic indicators for climate-smart agriculture, such as the demonstrated continuation or expansion of output and quality, resource accessibility, food security, human nutrition and health; together with direct or indirect measures of the impacts on greenhouse gas emissions. 

Also important are measures of resource use and impact efficiency, such as fuel, energy, land or water use per unit of output, and greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output. A number of more sector-specific indicators may also be pertinent. These may be used to varying extents in composite indicators, for example, in cases where social or environmental trade-offs need to be integrated with more conventional production-defined indicators. These indicators would cover criteria such as aquatic biodiversity, ecosystem status, gender equity and social dependence indices. Based on a defined range of such indicators, normative scenario building will help specify the current conditions of the sector and the desired status over a given period. 

Clearer definitions will also be required for the status and function of primary resources and their use in the sector. This will serve to determine the current status of the sector, trends, the potential impacts of acidification and climate change, and how changes in the efficiency of resource use are delivering social and economic benefits.

It is possible to identify the current characteristics of the aquaculture and fisheries sector and the sector's vulnerabilities to acidification, climate change and climate variability. However, it is less easy to define the broad priority areas for action based on the projected impacts of climate change and the adaptive capacity of different systems, and the specific pathways and mechanisms for making these systems more robust and resilient. Based to some extent on similar issues in other agricultural sectors and sectors involved in natural resource management, a number of points can be noted:

  • It will be critical to build capacity and improve performance in basic aquatic resource management to ensure underlying resilience in the face of uncertainty.
  • Social, legal, institutional, or economic and market-based incentives will be the key to making the transition to climate-smart agriculture. Ideally, financial or other benefits will make climate-smart agriculture self-sustaining, so that the additional impetus will only be required during the initial transition period. This impetus could be provided by increasing access to improved fisheries and aquaculture techniques and materials, modifying and strengthening institutions, building capacities and developing participatory monitoring systems. 
  • To meet emerging needs and avoid losses, some of the elements necessary for making the transition to climate-smart agriculture will require longer-term strategic investments in infrastructure, productive capacity, and improved products and services, including aquaculture stocks and feeds. The case for these investments, and the rate at which these investments need to be deployed, will have to be assessed, and tools for doing so will need to be refined.
  • Smaller-scale changes and response can be carried out locally with current resources and knowledge. These changes can be extended relatively simply by sharing knowledge and experience and further strengthening institutions.
  • Fisheries and aquaculture are embedded within complex ecosystems. It will be very difficult to provide accurate predictions about how these ecosystems will respond to climate change. To help define potential consequences and test responses, adaptive and low-cost monitoring systems must be established. These systems will need to be interactive and capable of building a strong and easily shared knowledge base across user groups.
  • Markets and trade may help buffer changes in production that affect food security, consumer prices and supply-demand gaps. However, a better understanding is needed of the implications of climate change impacts and climate change policies throughout the entire supply and value chain. Appropriate policy measures need to be defined and implemented.
  • Public and private sector investment and collaboration will be required to meet future demands and ensure the sector meets climate-smart agriculture objectives and delivers long-term benefits. Including multiple stakeholders in climate-smart agriculture planning will foster creative options for action and help to minimize the unintended consequences of chosen options.
  • Many of the components of climate-smart agriculture can be strategically matched with broader development objectives connected to issues such as sustainability, social equity and biodiversity. Actions undertaken to meet these shared goals need to be integrated effectively. 
  • Improvement in basic fisheries and aquaculture management, including the reduction of overcapacity and overfishing, are key to building the resilience of fisheries and aquaculture systems, and supporting the sector’s effort to reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions. 
  •  The initiatives listed above, combined with changes in consumption behaviours and the way fisheries resources are used, would help ensure that the fisheries and aquaculture sector, despite the expected impacts of climate change, can continue to supply nutritious food to a growing population, (Merino et al., 2012). 

The need to scale up research

The scientific information currently available and used to measure the potential impacts of climate change on productivity of aquatic resources is global in its scale. This has made it difficult for countries and regions to use this information when formulating climate change adaptation strategies. Depending on specific local conditions, potential production changes can diverge widely from global model estimates. Recent case studies have shown that the methodology chosen to assess the vulnerability of aquatic resources, and the communities that depend on them for their livelihoods, to climate change has a strong impact on the results. More work needs to be conducted at country level, and even ecosystem level, to improve the accuracy of projections regarding the potential changes in production from fisheries resources in river basins, lakes, estuaries and coastal shorelines. 

It can be difficult to disentangle the impacts of climate change on productivity from the impacts of other activities. Other ecosystem stressors include: overexploitation of fish stocks due to overcapacity or mismanagement of resources, including illegal fishing; habitat degradation, such as destruction of mangroves, dams, and draining of wetlands; and irrigation and the overuse of industrial water that reduces water flow in rivers, lakes and estuaries and destroys sensitive fish breeding and feeding grounds. Information on reduced water flow, such as the volume of river runoff into coastal areas, is typically unavailable at local or national levels. This makes it hard to measure the impact on the productivity of fish stocks of reduced nutrients in coastal areas and increased salinity in estuaries. For small-scale fisheries in Lake Tanganyika, Lake Chad Basin and the Lower Mekong, there is evidence that the impacts on freshwater ecosystems of dams and population growth, which increases the demand for food and drives agricultural expansion, are overshadowing the impact of climate change (Conference on Adaptation to Climate Change in the Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector – FishAdapt, Bangkok, 22-24 August 2016). 

If this information gap is to be overcome, communication and interactions between fisheries and aquaculture scientists and ocean-climate scientists needs to be improved. Projections provided by the climate scientists need to be tailored to meet the information needs of the sectors, especially fisheries and aquaculture, that will be most impacted by climate change. Given the lack of accurate data at national and local levels on how production will be affected by potential changes in aquatic species and by other human-driven stressors, there is significant uncertainty regarding projections for climate-related productivity changes. In light of this uncertainty, the ecosystem approach and the precautionary approach to management of aquatic resources remain the best way for countries to safeguard the sustainable harvest and utilization of their capture fisheries resources.