Building resilience for the oceans

  • 3 billionpeople rely on fish as an important source of protein.

Scientists have long warned that warming seas could devastate fisheries around the world.

But new research from EDF and its partners shows how smart management can help revive our oceans, even with climate change.

A way of life at risk and a path forward

On a bone-chilling morning in the Chilean port of San Antonio, Cristian Miranda and other fishermen gather to ready their boats for a day at sea. Along the country’s 2,500-mile coast, fishermen have followed similar daily rituals for generations, supporting local economies and feeding their families.

It’s a way of life that’s at risk due to overfishing. Reported landings of hake, a mainstay in the local diet, have plummeted 90 percent since 2002.

“The fishery has collapsed,” says Miranda, president of the local cooperative. “We have to go farther out to fish. It’s dangerous, but we have no choice.”

EDF understands how important fishing is to our community. We look forward to their help in developing strategies to end overfishing.

Cristian Miranda, Chilean fisherman

Climate change has compounded the problem. Traditional Chilean fisheries are under pressure from Humboldt squid, voracious predators that are moving south from Peru as water temperatures change.

As more marine species cross borders around the world, countries – and local communities – need to work together on fisheries management.

Scientists from EDF, UC Santa Barbara and elsewhere have published new peer-reviewed research showing that adaptive, proactive fisheries management can keep oceans productive, even with climate change.

The study examined data from more than 900 fish stocks globally. The conclusion: With the right policies, we can increase the number of fish in the sea by nearly a third by 2100, improving food security and boosting fishing revenue.

“Despite the impacts of climate change, there is a path forward that’s good for oceans and for the people and economies that depend on them,” says EDF scientist Dr. Kristin Kleisner, one of the study’s authors.

'One of the most solvable environmental challenges'

EDF's Erica Cunningham with fisherman Miguel Hernandez

EDF’s Erica Cunningham, left, confers with fisherman Miguel Hernandez on the docks in San Antonio, Chile.

We’re working to apply new management solutions in Chile and Peru. With our help, the countries are beginning to share information on fish stocks and are considering early warning systems and stock-sharing arrangements to make fisheries more resilient.

“This is the new frontier,” says Erica Cunningham, the regional lead for our work in South America. “What’s happening in Chile and Peru is also occurring in other fisheries around the world.”

In response to changing ocean temperatures, fish are traveling outside their normal ranges, sparking new conflicts over fishing grounds.

“The good news,” says Kathleen McGinty, head of EDF’s Oceans program, “is that with strong management and sound science, overfishing is one of the most solvable environmental challenges we face.” Research shows many fisheries can recover in as little as 10 years.

Bringing fisheries into the information age

Fourth Wave pioneer spotlight
Brad Pettinger and EDF's Shems Jud

Brad Pettinger and EDF's Shems Jud

Oregon fisherman Brad Pettinger has witnessed the complete turnaround of the Pacific groundfish fishery, once declared a federal disaster, a recovery that stems in part from sustainable fishing policies championed by EDF.

Now he’s testing new smart-boat technologies that could help troubled fisheries around the world.

Working with Pettinger and others, EDF is experimenting with cameras, machine learning, low-cost sensors and broadband offshore internet connections to monitor fishing more accurately. The innovations improve accountability and reduce the need for expensive human observers.

“Information is a powerful tool,” says Pettinger, the former head of the Oregon Trawl Commission. Networked fishing vessels could share data while at sea, enabling better fisheries management and business decisions in real time, reducing waste.

“I envision a fully integrated information system,” says Pettinger, “from the vessel clear to the market.”

Just as smartphones stimulated innovation, smart boats could revolutionize fishing worldwide by providing more precise data on fish populations and habitat conditions than ever before, while enhancing compliance with fisheries law.