Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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6.6.4. Adaptation in Marine Ecosystems

Adaptation of the fishing industry to climate change is closely connected with investigations of the consequences of the effect of climatic anomalies and climate change scenarios. Because the effects of changes in climate factors will have different consequences for various species, development of special measures aimed at adaptation of the fish industry is regional in character and falls into the category of important socioeconomic problems.

Possible adverse effects of climate change can be aggravated by an inadequate utilization of fish reserves. For example, if a fish stock decreases as a result of the combined effect of climate change and overfishing, and the commercial catch remains high, species abundance may decrease dramatically and the commercial catch may become unprofitable. In such circumstances, some measures may need to be taken to protect fish reserves, such as the precautionary measures suggested by O'Brien et al. (2000) to give the North Sea cod fishery a chance to rebuild. Several sustainability indicators of marine capture species are discussed in Garcia and Staples (2000). Aquaculture also can be regarded as an adaptation; though to be an ecologically sustainable industry, it must emphasize an integrated approach to management (Carvalho and Clarke, 1998). Another adaptation is fish stock enhancement through ocean ranching (see Section 6.3.6).

Fish reserves rank among the most important economic resources in many countries. Approximately 95% of the world catch falls within the 200-mile economic zones of maritime states. Environmental impacts in those zones as a consequence of climate change could affect the catch volume and national economies. It should be noted that gains and losses at different levels of social organization can occur not only as a consequence of climate change but also as a result of human society's responses to this change. In some regions, for instance, special measures may be taken to promote adaptation and to reduce the negative consequences of climate change—which adds another dimension to fish management.

Adaptation measures that are relevant to the fishing industry may include the following:

  • Establishment of national and international fishery management institutions that will be able to manage expected changes
  • Expansion of aquaculture as a way of meeting increasing demand for seafoods of an increasing world population
  • Support for innovative research and integrated management of fisheries within coastal and open marine ecosystems
  • Improvement and development of an integrated monitoring system in the most productive areas, aimed at obtaining systematic information on hydrophysical, hydrochemical, and hydrobiological processes
  • Organization of data banks on the results of integrated ecological monitoring to identify anthropogenic changes, including climate change, and predict fish productivity
  • Modification and improvement of the technology of the fishing industry and management of the fish trade as required to adapt to climate change
  • Organization of marine biosphere reserves and protected areas for the habitat of marine mammals
  • Use of emerging predictive information related to natural climate variability (e.g., ENSO) to support fishery management and planning.

Adoption of some adaptation options to the potential impacts of climate change is not a panacea, however. Fish often are transboundary resources in that they may cross international and state boundaries in their oceanic migrations. In the case of Pacific salmon, for instance, problems have arisen in the agreement between the United States and Canada that are attributable in part to the effects of large-scale climate fluctuations (see Box 6-1). Miller (2000) suggests that the Pacific salmon case demonstrates that it may not be a simple matter for the fishing industry or governments to respond effectively to climate change. She concludes that adaptation is difficult when a resource is exploited by multiple competing users who possess incomplete information about the resource. If their incentives to cooperate are disrupted by the impacts of climate variation, dysfunctional breakdown in management rather than efficient adaptation may occur (Miller, 2000).

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