A helping hand (book) for managing fisheries through change

By September 21st, 2021

A new evidence-based handbook will help Australian fisheries respond to climate change to ensure sustainable seafood stocks.
aerial view of prawn trawler out at sea

The handbook will support robust adaptive management options to ensure effective fisheries management into the future. Image: AFMA

The Australian fisheries and aquaculture industries contribute a gross value of A$2.5 billion to the economy. However, species are on the move due to climate-driven changes – such as warming ocean temperatures and acidification. Scientists have even detected climate change in tuna tissue.

Changes to the distribution and abundance of fish could have implications for our marine industries. And impact the reliability of fish as a source of food.

Preparing the fishing industry for climate change

The Adaptation of fisheries management to climate change handbook has been launched by CSIRO together with the Institute for Marine & Antarctic Studies and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA). It identifies threats, risks and opportunities for fisheries arising from climate change.

Beth Fulton, CSIRO researcher and lead author, says the handbook will serve as a resource for fisheries to adapt to future scenarios.

“Our tropical ocean is warming almost twice as fast as the average for the rest of the world. Waters off the south-east and south-west of Australia are ‘hotspots’ for climate change impacts. This is causing a shift in where fish species travel,” says Fulton.

school of fish

Southern bluefin tuna is already being impacted by the changing climate. Image: Alistair Hobday/CSIRO

“The challenges faced by fisheries under a changing climate are not only related to biological and ecological change, but include other aspects of fisheries management like operations, infrastructure and safety.

“Our handbook outlines how climate change will impact fish stocks, and ultimately food and job security. It provides fisheries managers and operators evidence-based processes to understand potential changes and how to respond.”

Bringing science and industry together

An estimated 500 million people around the world rely on fisheries to provide their essential protein and dietary nutrients. As fisheries change, so does the risk to those who rely on fish for their food and income.

Across Australia, more than 100 species have been rated on sensitivity to climate change based on the life-history traits of the species. Around 70 per cent of assessed species have moderate to high sensitivity.

“The combined pressures of climate change mean that fisheries are likely to become more variable, affecting when, where and how many fish are caught,” said Fulton.

“Our science indicates that all Australian Commonwealth fisheries contain species that are sensitive to climate change. These sensitive species have both economic value as well as cultural value. Bycatch, threatened, endangered and protected species are also likely to be highly sensitive to climate change effects. This could put species under unacceptable pressure.”

Solutions for future fisheries management

The handbook identifies existing pressures in the physical environment. It also highlights other anticipated pressures expected in the coming years and decades.

“Some of the most sensitive species have both economic value as well as cultural value. Short lived and invertebrate fisheries, in particular, are likely to become far more variable into the future;” reveals Fulton.

“Monitoring and forecast capacity will become increasingly important for understanding and anticipating system change. This might mean redirecting resources and shifting fishing grounds if conditions are poor. It could also require diversifying markets and a shift in focus to new seafood products.”

Other key considerations include targeted research to understand how climate is impacting catch levels and developing technologies to maximise sustainability as well as profitability. This will help to maintain Australia’s reputation for having some of the best managed fisheries in the world.

Domestic handbook with global reach

The project team collaborated with fisheries researchers, managers, and operators to produce the handbook. This brought together the best available information for adaptation options. Including the development of the most workable and effective solution options.

The handbook sets out a three-step process for understanding climate risks and managing the response.

Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) CEO, Mr Wez Norris, said industry, management and other fisheries stakeholders will use the handbook to establish a shared understanding of climate risks and develop robust adaptive management options.

“Fisheries managers want to know how climate change affects aspects of management like sustainable catch limits, fishing rules, or the methods and gear used. The handbook provides a logical step by step process for exploring these questions. It will greatly assist us in working through these issues with industry,” said Mr Norris.

“The handbook will support resilient fisheries management so that Australia’s Commonwealth fishing industry remains a sustainable and economically viable industry, now and into the future.”

This project was developed for Commonwealth fisheries. But the process described in the handbook is applicable for fisheries managed by all jurisdictions.

“Responding to climate change is a cross-jurisdictional and multifaceted issue for fisheries management. Bringing stakeholder groups together will help identify and minimise cumulative risks,” shared Fulton.

The handbook sets out a three-step process for understanding climate risks and managing the response.

  1. The climate sensitivity of a fishery’s management to physical and ecological change
  2. How fishery operators are likely to respond and adapt
  3. Potential management responses and the cost and speed of response.

“The handbook will also be supported with a user-friendly tool we are developing with AFMA. This will assist fisheries managers and operators step through the risk assessment process,” said Fulton.

“This will strengthen the response to climate risk. It will also support robust adaptive management options to ensure effective fisheries management into the future.”

The project ‘2016-059 Guidance on Adaptation of Commonwealth fisheries management to climate change’ is supported by funding from the FRDC on behalf of the Australian Government, and is informed by past investment.

Read the Adaptation of fisheries management to climate change handbook.

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