Ecuadorian fishing communities are ‘severely’ threatened by climate change

The warming of the seas, among other factors, would decrease the fish population. Less fish means less food and less income for artisanal fishermen. Photo: Antonio Busiello-WWF

September 4, 2020 – 11:55 am

Communities in developing countries, which are highly dependent on fishing, including several in Ecuador, are severely threatened by climate change.

In fact, fish biomass is expected to decline between 30% to 40% in some tropical regions by 2100, in the absence of changes in current management schemes. These data were revealed in an investigation by WWF, Agrocampus Ouest (France), University of British Columbia (Canada), Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the National Fisheries Institute of Ecuador.

The study examined the effects of the climate crisis on artisanal fisheries in developing countries, combining climate models derived from exact and natural science research with the local ecological knowledge of artisanal fishermen, focused from the social sciences.The assessment focused on the impacts and possible adaptation strategies to climate change for artisanal fishermen in mainland Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, South Africa and the Philippines.

“This study illustrates very well, for the first time, a comprehensive and coherent approach to fisheries, through the perspective of climate change, and from various disciplinary formats and points of view, and forms of knowledge. And this interdisciplinary approach, Integrated with the knowledge of the fishermen, it contributes greatly to our better understanding of these complex and dynamic systems, “says María José Barragán, acting executive director of the CDF and co-author of the study.

The study also showed that climate change has significant negative consequences for most species of fish caught by artisanal fishermen, including some of the most commercially important species such as sardines, anchovies and tuna.
“Even if global warming were limited to 1.5 ° C in the most favorable scenario, most fish species are still at risk of losing their habitats and food sources,” says Pablo Guerrero, WWF marine conservation director in Ecuador.

In the coming decades, many species of fish would face temperatures that exceed the limits for them to thrive, affecting their populations and distribution patterns. Less fish means less food and less income for people whose livelihoods are tied to the seas.

“Small-scale fishers, who represent half of the world’s fish production, will be disproportionately affected by the consequences of a warmer ocean,” adds Guerrero

The effects of the climate crisis are already being suffered by fishermen

Small-scale fishers are already being strongly affected by the climate crisis due to already unusually high sea temperatures, increased stratification and physiological impacts on marine species are just a few.

In addition, for some years now, there has been a greater frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as floods and strong winds. Ecuador, South Africa and the Philippines are already affected by declining catches, either due to reduced fish populations or altered distribution of fish as they move away from the coast towards deeper and colder waters where they are no longer accessible to artisanal fishing gear.

Fishermen are also concerned about the changes they have witnessed in marine ecosystems, especially coral reefs that are dying or have already perished, as they serve as crucial spawning and nursery areas for fish. The effects of these changes are particularly devastating for coral reefs, which are home to 25% of all marine life.

Artisanal fishermen are not equipped to face climate crisis
The study concludes that the artisanal fishing sector is currently not equipped to adequately adapt to the climate crisis.

If the sector does not adapt to these changes, it will collapse. However, if global warming is kept within the 1.5 ° C limit, scientists estimate that sustainable global fisheries management can increase the biomass of fish in the oceans by 60%. Urgent action is required to steer oceanic and social scenarios toward more prosperous and resilient outcomes, the study states.

“With a human population of almost 10 billion projected by 2050, we will need more resources than ever. This cannot be achieved under current circumstances. The situation could improve only by changing to sustainable management of fishery resources, reducing discards, increasing the demand for the consumption of fast-growing species, the transition to sustainable aquaculture and the accountability of the changes that the climate crisis is already causing in our seas and societies, “says Guerrero.

It is recommended to improve fisheries management and control strategies, as well as climate adaptation practices, which will require that the fishing sector be more adaptable, participatory, precautionary and socially responsible, including gender equality.

Tuna populations would decline in the Philippines
The study shows that fisheries located in countries closest to the equator will be the most affected by warmer and more acidic seas.

Even in some countries the catches will be cut in half by 2050. The Philippines would be particularly affected in traditional hand line fishing for tuna. Large declines in the amount of fish caught are expected.

“These losses are difficult to compensate with other species of fish, both in terms of the nutritional value of other species in the region and the commercial value of the tuna in international markets. If the tuna disappears from the coasts of the island state, the people who depend on these and other fish, they will lose a vital source of food and income, which threatens their livelihoods. Climate adaptation strategies and plans for their implementation must be urgently developed and supported by all stakeholders, ” indicates Guerrero.

Consumers can help

It is important that consumers choose fish and shellfish that come from sustainable sources while consciously consuming less seafood, respecting closed seasons and avoiding the consumption of products that do not have traceability systems, says the study.

“Only sustainable fishing and aquaculture can guarantee the conservation of the ecosystems and species that support the livelihoods of 800 million people around the world, and thus guarantee the presence of some of our favorite foods on our plates.”

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