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Effects of climate change on the sustainability of capture and enhancement fisheries important to the poor: analysis of the vulnerability and adaptability of fisherfolk living in poverty

Although the majority of the world’s fisherfolk live in areas susceptible to the impacts of climate change, relationships between the physical impacts of climate change and the livelihood vulnerability of poor fishing communities have seldom been investigated. This paper reports on a project that explored the potential impact of climate change on the sustainability of capture and enhancement fisheries important to poor people, with a view to informing the development of a research agenda in this field. Some of the main impact pathways of climate change on fisheries are:

  • ecological changes, including shifting species boundaries, coral bleaching, disruption to fish reproductive patterns and migratory routes
  • the impact of precipitation and evapotranspiration change on the hydrology of inland waters. Water flow changes affecting fish reproduction and growth, as well as wetland-based livelihoods
  • the impact of the increased frequency of extreme events on fishing operations and coastal livelihoods, damage to fishing infrastructure, increased loss of life, damage to coastal communities.

The study determined the climate change vulnerability of several countries by assessing risk exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. This analysis indicated that the African countries whose fishing people are most vulnerable to climate change, as well as the semi-arid countries with significant coastal or inland fisheries. The paper then looks at three area and ecosystem based case studies, being coral reefs, the African lakes region, and the Bangladeshi river basins and floodplains. Knowledge gaps highlighted by the present study, and potentially forming the basis for a future research agenda, fall into the following categories:

  • improving global and regional vulnerability assessments: improving parameterisation of risk exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity to climate change, using expert techniques to assess global and regional risks of climate change to fisheries and livelihoods, and developing methods of vulnerability analysis for fisheries at different scales
  • research needs for vulnerable fishery systems: adaptive fisheries management in vulnerability hotspots, vulnerability of the poor dependent on coral reef systems, resilience and vulnerability in inland fisheries, and climate-sensitive coastal small-scale fisheries.