SOFIA gives clear warning of climate change challenge

SOFIA gives clear warning of climate change Marine species can be expected to move to new grounds as ocean temperatures change

Every few years the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation published its State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) report, providing a snapshot of the world’s fisheries and making predictions for future developments.

Such a report is inevitably dated. The sheer volume of date that goes into this means that by the time the report is available, much will have changed – but it remains the most accurate overview there is of the world’s fisheries.

According to SOFIA 2108, the global wild catch in 2016 came to 90.9 million tonnes, and although this is down 2 million tonnes on the previous year, which can be attributed to fluctuations associated with En Niño, it’s a figure that has remained largely stable for more than twenty years.

The remainder of the current 171 million tonne of global fisheries production is farmed, increasing alongside per capita fish consumption that has roughly doubled since the 1960s. By the time overall production hits the predicted 200 million tonnes by 2030, the growth is expected to all be in farmed fish.

According to the FAO, this future growth will require continued progress in strengthening fisheries management regimes, reducing loss and waste, and tackling problems such as illegal fishing, pollution and climate change.

“The fisheries sector is crucial in meeting FAO's goal of a world without hunger and malnutrition, and its contribution to economic growth and the fight against poverty is growing,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

“The sector is not without its challenges, however, including the need to reduce the percentage of fish stocks fished beyond biological sustainability.”

SOFIA 2018 identifies 60% of wild stocks as being fished at biologically safe levels, with 33% exploited beyond those safe levels and 7% underfished

The FAO states that these trends do not necessarily mean that no progress has been made toward achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14, which demands effective regulation of fish harvesting, and end to overfishing, illegal fishing, and destructive fishing practices, and implementation of science-based management plans to restore stocks. The organisation warns that the world has diverged in its approach to sustainable fisheries, identifying worsening overcapacity and stock status in developing countries offsetting improvements in fisheries management and stock statuses in developed nations. According to FAO, counteracting these will require building effective partnerships, particularly in policy coordination, financial and human resource mobilisation and deployment of advanced technologies.

At the same time, an enhanced level of collaboration is required to prioritise preventive measures to reduce marine litter and microplastics, and to upgrade recycling schemes to ‘circular economies’ as well as phasing out single-use plastic.

Climate change

The key challenge identified within SOFIA is that anticipated changes in climatic conditions will result in large-scale shifts; wild catches can be expected to drop in fisheries-dependent tropical regions and rise in the temperate areas of the north.

SOFIA 2018 predicts that these shifts in the distribution of fisheries will have major operational, managerial, and jurisdictional implications, while research will be needed to develop strategies for allowing fisheries to adapt to climate change.

New analysis and modelling by FAO and more than a hundred collaborating scientific projects indicate that by 2050 climate change will have altered the productivity of many marine and freshwater fisheries, affecting the livelihoods of millions of the worlds' poorest people.

Nearly 60 million people are employed in fisheries and aquaculture, and climate change poses significant risks to their livelihoods.

The productive potential of fisheries inside EEZs could decline and the planet's critical but often-overlooked inland water systems, which include five of the world's least-developed countries among its top ten fish producers and provides 11.6 million tonnes of food for human consumption each year, will also be affected, according to the FAO.
José Graziano da Silva has already appealed to the international community to provide adequate support to help countries adapt and urged governments to resolve adaptation funding disputes.

Projected impacts are linked to changes in water temperature and pH levels, shifts in ocean circulation patterns, rising sea levels and altered rainfall and storm patterns causing species to change their distributions and productivity, corals to bleach, and aquatic diseases to become more common, among others.

A series of case-studies focuses on challenges, as well as adaptation solutions already being explored, in 13 major marine areas ranging from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. A key section provides adaptation toolboxes and options to help countries cope, in ways that will also allow them to meet their adaptation commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement.

The report claims that if these are appropriately implemented, the impacts of climate change can be minimised.

In particular José Graziano da Silva urged governments on the board of the UN's Green Climate Fund to resolve their disagreements over funding, commenting that the failure of the board during its last meeting to agree on any big-ticket decisions, and in particular on the replenishment of the fund, means it could run dry next year.

“We run the risk of having the most powerful element of the Paris Climate Agreement completely exhausted,” José Graziano da Silva said. “When we signed the Paris Agreement, it was a sine qua non condition that if we don't help poorer countries to adapt then we will not be successful in implementing the agreement.”

Best case vs Business as Usual

In one modelling exercise in the FAO report, based on the IPPC's RCP2.6 ‘strong mitigation’ scenario, fisheries production in marine EEZs would drop by 2.80-5.30% by 2050. The RCP8.5 ‘business as usual’ model predicts a decrease ranging from 7 to 12.10% by 2050.

The most significant decreases are expected in the EEZs of tropical nations, mostly in the South Pacific, while in higher latitude regions catch potential is likely to rise.

The report points out that even in areas where productivity will be negatively affected, catches of fish could still grow, as long as adequate adaptation measures and effective fisheries management regimes are implemented. Changes in catch levels will occur in part as a result of fish species changing their geographic distributions to respond to climate change. As distribution shifts play out, new arrangements within national fishing fleets as well as between nations will be needed to allow for coordinated responses, the FAO warns.

Productive impacts to inland water systems are predicted to vary, but no world region will be untouched. The FAO provides estimates how climate, water use and population stress in 149 countries will change, and explores the future evolution of the Yangtze, Ganges, and Mekong rivers in Asia, the Congo River Basin and the Great Lakes system in Africa, in Europe, Finland's inland lakes, and in South America, the La Plata and Amazon River Basins.

In the case of freshwater aquaculture, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Lao PDR and China are estimated to be the most vulnerable countries, while for marine aquaculture, Norway and Chile are seen as being vulnerable due to the scale of their marine fish farming systems and reliance on a few species.

Meeting the challenge

According to the FAO, a range of fisheries management tools already exist that can be used to respond to climate change, but many will need to be rethought to respond to specific needs in specific contexts. The FAO groups these into three categories; institutional and management responses, strengthening and diversifying people's livelihoods, and mitigating risk and supporting resilience.

The challenge of climate change can be met, the FAO says, and its report indicates how to do so effectively, while minimising impacts and maximising opportunities.

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