New Report Details Actions Needed to Create Climate-Ready Fisheries

Report released as discussion draft to spark dialogue and action

December 2, 2019
Tad Segal, (202) 572-3549

(WASHINGTON – Dec. 2, 2019) With climate change increasingly threatening key life support systems of our planet, including the ocean, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today released a new report identifying key priorities for the world’s fisheries to achieve sustainability in the face of rapidly-warming seas.

The report, Pathways for Climate-Ready Fisheries, identifies five key elements necessary to prepare the world’s fisheries to thrive in a climate-impacted future. It details the necessary social, political and economic transitions required in order to avoid, or even reverse, the worst impacts from climate change on the world’s seafood and fishing communities. The report is being released as a discussion draft with an invitation to provide input on the core elements necessary to create a healthier and more resilient ocean.

“Even with the necessary actions to control emissions and investments to reduce carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, changes in the ocean already underway will continue and even accelerate,” said Eric Schwaab, senior vice president for EDF Oceans. “These changes are already fundamentally altering ocean ecosystems, with huge impacts on fishing communities and people worldwide who rely on fish for food, nutrition and livelihoods. But with thoughtful interventions, many of these impacts can be significantly reduced, and in some cases even reversed.”

The five pathways articulated in the report focus on steps that can and must be taken by governments, NGOs, fisher organizations, academia and multilateral organizations in order to create greater resilience and sustainability of fisheries. The pathways include:

1. Ensure effective fishery management and governance is in place.

The first step in addressing the impacts of climate change is to improve existing fisheries management, especially where effective management and governance does not yet exist. Without the establishment of best practices for effective management and governance in partnership with fishermen, very little can be done to address climate change effects.

2. Anticipate and plan for future change.

Looking ahead and planning for the future can help us to avoid problems that may otherwise arise. When we manage forward, we use the best available knowledge about what the future will bring and must ask whether all aspects of our management and governance systems are set up appropriately in the face of future change.

3. Enhance international cooperation.

Because fish stocks will increasingly change in their distribution patterns, in some cases moving from the equator toward the poles in search of more suitable habitat, the geographic scale of fishery management must change as well in order to manage stocks sustainably across their new ranges. This, in turn, will require greater degrees of bilateral and multilateral government cooperation and flexibility.

4. Build ecosystem resilience to help respond to the unknown.

We must take action to elevate the importance of things like genetic and biological diversity, habitat complexity and connectivity and ensuring adequate population sizes of marine species; it also means tackling other ocean impacts, such as from pollution like plastics that threaten ocean health.

5. Principles of fairness and equity must drive policy decisions.

Because it will disproportionately impact fish resources in the developing tropics, climate change promises to exacerbate inequity at the global, national and local levels. And because climate impacts will be felt the hardest by nations that contributed the least to the problem, it will be increasingly important to recognize, address and reverse these inequities across societies. Doing so is the right thing to do, but addressing inequity also helps ensure social cohesion so societies can help one another to adapt.

By engaging in an exchange with other key stakeholders about the report, EDF hopes to spark deeper conversation and action that will be needed to prepare fisheries for the impacts from climate change. This includes the upcoming meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Committee on Fisheries in July 2020, which will bring together fishing nations across the globe to discuss collective action and governance solutions.

“The world depends on fish for vital nutrition, food security, livelihoods and social well-being,” said Douglas Rader, chief oceans scientist for EDF Oceans. “We have a rare window of opportunity to put in place reforms that we know will have lasting impacts on the ability of our ocean to help feed the world, provide good jobs, alleviate poverty and build greater social cohesion.”

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