The state of world fisheries and aquaculture 2022


Fisheries and aquaculture adaptations to climate change


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reiterated the acceleration of global warming in the Sixth Assessment Report (IPCC, 2021), stressing that increased warming has caused irreversible changes. The Glasgow Climate Pact (UNFCCC, 2021) coming out of the twenty-sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP26) (Box 30) highlights the urgent need for ocean-based action, and the climate discussions reasserted the large capacity of aquatic ecosystems to store carbon. These recognitions call for strengthened and accelerated climate mitigation and adaptation in fisheries and aquaculture along the lines of developments that are progressively shaping up in the international climate dialogues. Over the years, global climate discussions relating to fisheries and aquaculture have been supported by FAO guidance on adaptation (Poulain, Himes-Cornell and Shelton, 2018); this section underscores five priorities for fostering on-the-ground actions on fisheries and aquaculture adaptation that can significantly contribute to Blue Transformation.5


The twenty-sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – COP26 – was held from 31 October to 13 November 2021 in Glasgow, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The outcome document, the Glasgow Climate Pact,1 addressed issues and challenges in seven action-oriented areas. It placed unprecedented emphasis on adaptation, highlighting the urgency of scaling up adaptation action. It also urged developed countries to significantly increase from the 2019 levels their collective provision of adaptation finance to developing countries by 2025. This is critical noting the current adaptation finance gap, which has been worsened by the increased indebtedness of developing countries as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In terms of mitigation, the Glasgow Climate Pact recognized that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions. It requested countries to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022.

Addressing loss and damage was another critical issue at COP26 and received particular attention from developing countries. The Glasgow Climate Pact urged developed countries to provide funds for technical assistance under the existing Santiago Network. It also established the Glasgow Dialogue to discuss funding arrangements for activities addressing loss and damage.

In the Glasgow Climate Pact, countries recognized the interlinkage between climate change and biodiversity loss and the critical role of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems. There was a particular focus on the ocean, with COP 26 calling on the relevant work programmes and constituted bodies under the UNFCCC to consider how to integrate and strengthen ocean-based action in their existing mandates and work plans and to report on these activities within the existing reporting processes. Countries agreed to strengthen ocean-based action and continue annual ocean dialogues in 2022.

FAO was actively engaged in multiple events at COP26, ensuring fisheries and aquaculture were addressed under the UNFCCC. FAO also used the opportunity to reinforce its commitment to continue supporting countries to achieve sustainability and climate resilience collectively for fisheries and aquaculture, in collaboration with partners from the United Nations system, ocean community and private sector.

Mainstreaming climate change into fisheries and aquaculture management

The increasing evidence of the impacts of climate change on aquatic ecosystems calls for the explicit consideration of climate stressors in fisheries and aquaculture management, as well as a better connection between adaptation plans and management or development actions. For this purpose, the sector would benefit from shifting to flexible and adaptive management approaches allowing for continuous adjustments as climate impacts are detected. Typically, management cycles as theorized in FAO guidance would need to include additional feedback loops to respond to changes in a timely manner and shorten the management cycle to allow for adaptation to changing conditions (Figure 68).


SOURCE: Adapted from FAO. 2003. Fisheries management 2. The ecosystem approach to fisheries. FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries. No. 4, Suppl. 2. Rome.
NOTE: Additional feedback loop is indicated by dotted red line.
SOURCE: Adapted from FAO. 2003. Fisheries management 2. The ecosystem approach to fisheries. FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries. No. 4, Suppl. 2. Rome.

Environmental monitoring systems using a risk-based approach can trigger effective adaptation action if they include local and context-specific proxies and indicators associated with climate stressors that are known to have significant impacts on fisheries and aquaculture (e.g. temperature increase, changes in precipitation patterns, oxygen level in the water). In general, enhancing the reliance on risk-based approaches in fisheries and aquaculture management optimizes risk reduction related to climate change, whether in the planning or implementation phase of management.6 In addition, the spatial and temporal scale of management units of fishing or fish farming need to be properly designed so that they are aligned with the relevant climate mitigation and adaptation measures.

FAO initiated the analysis of case studies that successfully introduced flexibility in marine fisheries management (Bahri et al., eds, 2021); however, further work is needed, documenting and learning from practical examples addressing the impacts of climate change in freshwater fisheries or aquaculture management to ensure continued productivity and resilience (Box 31).


Coastal fisheries are a vital provider of food and livelihoods to millions of people. Yet, there is growing pressure on the marine biodiversity of coastal areas. Climate change is among the main challenges endangering aquatic species and threatening coastal ecosystems, including mangroves.

In Sassandra (Côte d’Ivoire) and the Saloum Delta (Senegal), FAO and the United Nations Environment Programme/Abidjan Convention are working together with local communities to achieve sustainable mangrove management linked with improved fisheries governance and value chains, through the Coastal Fisheries Initiative project in West Africa funded by the Global Environment Facility.

In 2021, the project implemented mangrove restoration, assisting natural regeneration and safeguarding activities at a pilot scale of 700 ha, using a participatory and inclusive approach by involving local communities and non-governmental organizations.

The project also supports the operationalization of a coastal shrimp management plan in the Saloum Delta, and has carried out community capacity development, with a particular focus on women oyster processors and awareness raising through various media in local languages.

These interventions are leading to multiple benefits. They are enhancing the resilience of fisheries communities’ livelihoods to climate-related risks and disasters and contributing to carbon sequestration, while addressing issues related to biodiversity.

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Developing and implementing transformative adaptation plans

Fishers and fish farmers are already adapting to climate change by diversifying their livelihoods, adjusting to changes in the environment and modifying their fishing and fish farming techniques, but more rapid changes in institutions and management systems must be in place to foster autonomous adaptation7 and avoid maladaptation. This requires transformative adaptation plans at the national, subnational and local levels; these plans must enable autonomous adaptation in the medium and long term to ease the transition of fisheries and aquaculture to a future resilient to climate change. In response to this need, FAO released guidelines (Brugere and De Young, 2020) intended for policymakers from ministries and institutions governing fisheries and aquaculture to actively take part in and contribute to the recognition, promotion and inclusion of the sector in national adaptation planning processes. Other stakeholders can also make use of these guidelines to understand how to engage in and initiate adaptation planning at the subnational and local levels.

While transformative adaptation plans will be required to encapsulate the needs of all scales of fisheries and aquaculture, particular attention must be given to the most vulnerable if the sector is to continue to contribute to meeting global goals of poverty reduction and food security. Therefore, the formulation and implementation of adaptation plans must follow an inclusive and participatory approach and consider the needs and benefits of small-scale fishing and fish farming communities in developing countries who are most impacted by climate change. One example is the development of 120 community-based integrated management plans in Myanmar, as part of the FAO FishAdapt project, to help increase the resilience of local fisheries and aquaculture communities and their livelihoods to climate change.

Adopting climate-informed spatial management approaches

Spatial management approaches provide a powerful framework for planning, adapting and mitigating the fisheries and aquaculture sectors to current and future climate risks and opportunities. In the absence of sound spatial management and planning, as oceans warm and acidify, geographic species distributions and habitats will shift, patterns of disease outbreak and spread will change, and social conflicts between inland waters or ocean users will worsen, among a myriad of other climate-induced changes.

Spatial planning and management provide a solutions-focused pathway whereby spatial data and models can be used to better understand and predict how climate change could affect fisheries and aquaculture, as well as provide insights into variability between locations so that appropriate area-based adaptation strategies can be deployed. Good spatial planning and best management practices at the farm- and area-management levels, supported by spatial technology such as satellite remote sensing, aerial surveys, global positioning systems, geographic information systems, and information and communication technology, can reduce vulnerability to the risks of climate change and facilitate adaptation. For example, in Chile, climate change risk maps for aquaculture from the ARClim project developed under the Ministry of Environment are being used to generate science-based harmful algal bloom warnings to help reduce farmed salmon mortality (Figure 69).


SOURCE: Adapted from Soto, D., León-Muñoz, J., Garreaud, R., Quiñones, R.A. & Morey, F. 2021. Scientific warnings could help to reduce farmed salmon mortality due to harmful algal blooms. Marine Policy, 132: 104705.
NOTES: Polygons represent salmon farming concession areas (ACS) along latitudinal (Y) and longitudinal (X) axes. Colours in maps A to C represent scores for the components of Risk: Exposure (E), Hazard (H) and Sensitivity (S). Scores vary from 1 (minimum) to 5 (maximum) for each component. Map D represents Risk values, estimated as R = (E × H × S)/125. The denominator 125 refers to maximum possible values (5 × 5 × 5), therefore risk varies between 0 (minimum risk) and 1 (maximum risk).
SOURCE: Adapted from Soto, D., León-Muñoz, J., Garreaud, R., Quiñones, R.A. & Morey, F. 2021. Scientific warnings could help to reduce farmed salmon mortality due to harmful algal blooms. Marine Policy, 132: 104705.

Climate-informed spatial management mechanisms in fisheries and aquaculture may require adaptive shifts in governance frameworks, tailoring approaches for diverse stakeholder participation and engagement and integrating local science and knowledge in the design and implementation of innovative climate mitigation and adaptation strategies such as nature-based solutions. Furthermore, it is important to: develop diverse spatial databases that capture both ecological and socio-economic characteristics of the environment; strengthen oceanographic and climate-observing systems to provide local and real-time information; and develop national and regional capacities to implement early warning models and indicators that can support mitigation or adaptation of climate change impacts on fisheries and aquaculture.

Integrating equity and human rights considerations

The notion of equity should always be at the heart of climate discussions. Climate change may cause the most harm to those who have contributed the least to the climate crisis, such as small-scale fishing and fish farming communities, in particular those living in low-income countries and islands. Ultimately, equity is also about human rights. Climate change can affect people’s right to food, access to drinking water, education, health and housing, with disproportionate impacts on individuals, groups and people who are in vulnerable situations such as women, children, older persons, indigenous peoples, minorities, migrants and the poor.

The Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries, the 2021 FAO Committee on Fisheries Declaration for Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Paris Agreement recognize the importance of equity and human rights. Climate change adaptation in the fisheries and aquaculture sector must integrate equity and human rights considerations in both processes and outcomes. Key process considerations include transparency, participation, access to justice and non-discrimination. Key outcome considerations include the right to life and the supporting rights to food, housing, water and livelihoods. The adaptation planning process needs to engage and empower vulnerable communities, including small-scale fishers and fish farmers. Countries should assess the vulnerabilities of the fisheries and aquaculture sector and act in line with equity and human rights considerations. This requires countries to be proactive, preparing for future events, whether extreme or slow-onset, ensuring access to resilient infrastructure and public services (including health services).

Investing in innovation

Climate change has been posing new challenges to fisheries and aquaculture urging the sector to innovate through a synergetic combination of technological, policy and market transformations. In this regard, FAO has supported the design and implementation of novel interoperable information systems that systematize and integrate country-level data on fisheries, aquaculture and climate change, providing information for users and decision-makers, as well as early warning systems that contribute to the reduction of incidents and fatalities and the provision of humanitarian support in climate-related extreme events. Examples include an already operative framework recently consolidated in Chile (IFOP, 2021), the implementation of social media technologies to facilitate real-time information and enhance compliance in Lake Malombe, Malawi (FAO, 2019e), and the enhancing of monitoring and assessment of climate change impacts to inform policy and planning and support the fisheries and aquaculture communities in Myanmar (FAO, 2021t).

Similar innovative approaches are deployed in other regions of the world. For example, ISDApp8 in the Philippines converts collected localized weather data into simplified weather forecasts and sends them as text messages to the registered mobile numbers of fishers, even without a smartphone, while the Moana project9 in New Zealand supports the combination of traditional knowledge and fisheries sector data with cutting-edge ocean sensing and advanced numerical modelling to provide reliable ocean forecast systems to support marine industries.

Fisheries and aquaculture make a minor contribution to global carbon emissions. Nevertheless, there are opportunities for decarbonization along the fisheries and aquaculture value chain, increasing its efficiency by reducing fish wastes and losses, including for small-scale fishers and fish farmers. Decarbonization technologies already exist; however, access and upscaling remain a challenge due to the high costs. Innovative financial schemes and multipronged approaches are needed to ensure access to credit by entrepreneurs and local communities, including women and youth, as well as incentivizing policies to support the adoption of clean technologies and energies along the fisheries and aquaculture value chain together with marked innovations to promote their benefits.


Countries are showing a growing interest in adaptation of fisheries and aquaculture to climate change. According to the latest FAO report on nationally determined contributions (NDCs), of the 85 new or updated NDCs submitted (between 1 January 2020 and 31 July 2021) by countries as part of their commitment to the Paris Agreement, 62 of the 77 (81 percent) with adaptation components referred to adaptation in fisheries and aquaculture, including ocean and coastal zone management (Crumpler et al., 2021). The five priorities described above can provide very relevant guidance for countries in implementing their NDCs, to ultimately contribute to the achievement of the long-term adaptation goals of the Paris Agreement.

With COP26’s decision that formally strengthens the ocean space within the UNFCCC discussions, it is important for fisheries and aquaculture to expand its contribution to global efforts, sharing adaptation and mitigation solutions that are pertinent to the sector, while progressively filling the important gap of insufficient attention to freshwater fisheries and aquaculture within the international climate discussions.

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