In the Face of Climate Change, New Policy Approaches Needed for Managing Fisheries

Publication identifies pathways for improvements to mitigate climate change in fisheries

July 15, 2021
Tad Segal, (202) 572-3549

(WASHINGTON – July 15, 2021) As climate change continues to alter the temperature and chemistry of the ocean, new approaches and pathways are needed for governments to manage ocean fisheries, a publication in the ICES Journal of Marine Science states.

The publication, “Identifying policy approaches to build social–ecological resilience in marine fisheries with differing capacities and contexts,” authored by 10 Environmental Defense Fund ocean experts, in collaboration with regional ocean experts, presents a framework for managing fisheries in the face of climate change. Case studies from Myanmar, Belize, Peru and Iceland illustrate how any fishery can build resilience. It points to the best policy approaches for proactively building the sustainability, resilience and equity of fisheries as climate impacts increase in the future — a critical step for adaptively managing fisheries for millions worldwide who are dependent on ocean resources for food and nutrition, livelihoods and more.

“Climate change is already causing the ocean to be warmer, more acidic and less productive,” said Kendra Karr, senior scientist for EDF Oceans program and a co-author of the report. “Despite the shifting productivity of global fisheries, there are climate-adaptive management reforms that leverage intervention efforts to help ameliorate many of the negative outcomes on food security, nutrition, livelihoods and cultures for hundreds of millions of people globally.”

In the publication, the authors use a set of nine socio-ecological resilience criteria to present how fisheries resilience can be improved within varying resource, technical and governance capacities. Using four case studies, representing fisheries with different capacities from around the world, the authors assess attributes that confer or undermine resilience and identify policy approaches that build such resilience.

Myanmar’s marine ecosystems have suffered from coastal development, increased demand on its fisheries and impacts from climate change (e.g., warmer waters, sea-level rise, ocean acidification and more intense storms). Myanmar’s fisheries would benefit from a participatory co-management structure that facilitates community-based management. However, the cultural complexity of many coastal societies appears to be a limiting factor in making this transition.

Belize has been a leader in marine conservation for many years, and in 2020 the government passed a new fishery law to increase the sustainable use and management of its fisheries. It also implemented a strong participatory community-based co-management program with the support of those in the fishing industry. Improving resilience in Belize’s coastal fisheries relies on continued advancements of science-based management, especially for finfish, and inclusive, participatory decision-making that centers fishers’ livelihoods and equity.

Peru is home to the largest fishery in the world: the Peruvian anchoveta. This and other Peruvian fisheries, such as jumbo squid — an increasingly important fishery worldwide — are nourished largely by the Humboldt Current, which drives upwelling, leading to a highly productive environment. The natural variability in the current’s intensity is compounded by climate change, forcing Peru’s fishers and managers to find adaptive, forward-looking, science-based approaches in these globally significant fisheries.

Off Iceland, the warm Atlantic and cold Arctic currents converge atop submarine ridges to create highly productive waters. Iceland manages nearly all its fisheries (~98%) through a multi-species individual transferrable quota system, or ITQ. Managers also protect spawning areas through closed areas and restrict gear to prevent bycatch. Fishery managers have focused on effectively managing fish populations, future trade-offs, or negative synergies between ecological and social concerns as communities develop and diversify livelihoods. Further, a lack of community ownership in fisheries and participation in their management erodes long-term stewardship.

The report authors prioritize near- and long-term approaches for each of the six considerations shown in the figure above for building sustainable, equitable and climate-resilient fisheries.

“The framework illustrates ways a fishery can build resilience, regardless of capacity, and explores trade-offs that may occur among the resilience criteria,” said Karr. “Any assessment of resilience should consider the magnitude and type of climate impacts, the capacity to adapt to such impacts, the ability to address issues of fairness and equity, and the inherent resilience of the system.”

Understanding these dimensions can point to policy approaches that build sustainability, equity and resilience of fisheries as climate impacts increase in the future.

# # #

One of the world’s leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund ( creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 2.5 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF’s scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter @EnvDefenseFund