Climate aware

Can the influence of climate change on aquaculture, fisheries, and ecosystems be accounted for in ICES advice?
Published: 17 April 2023

Loss of sea ice, coral bleaching, species migration and species invasion: these are some of the changes we observe as our seas become warmer, more acidic, and deoxygenated. The resulting changes in habitat, species, fishing yields, and operational costs have ecological, economic and governance consequences. 

As managers, policy-makers, and other stakeholders become increasingly aware of the need to consider climate impacts on the marine environment, ICES is well placed to address these international challenges across the North Atlantic and is exploring strategies and approaches to promote resiliency in fisheries, aquaculture, and ecosystems.

The enormity of climate change, and its wide-ranging nature, has meant looking for novel ways to systematically include various climate-driven pressures in our work and prioritize research on them. ICES advice already refers to climate change impacts: our Ecosystem overviews include climate change as a distinct pressure, along with evidence of ongoing and anticipated effects. Information on emerging biological and ecological threats and opportunities, as well as socio-economic impacts, are contained in our Aquaculture overviews

But how can ICES provide climate-informed advice? To begin to answer this question, experts gathered in 2021 for ICES Workshop on pathways to climate-aware advice (WKCLIMAD) chaired by Kirstin Holsman, NOAA, Michael Rust, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, and Mark Dickey-Collas, Chair of ICES Advisory Committee.  

Climate-informed advice

One of the biggest challenges in planning for climate change, according to Kirstin Holsman, is the perception that this is something in the distant future that can't be addressed by local or regional actions and policies. "Climate change already impacts marine systems. The goal of planning and preparing for climate change is to bring scientific evidence and advice into the decisions made today around finance, capacity, and harvest advice. This will increase the ability to adapt to climate shocks and impacts over the next few decades years".​

Uncharted waters

Other regions are also building a process for climate-informed fisheries advice. In the US, a Climate Change Task Force was established in 2019 where the fisheries councils have held climate change scenario workshops over the past three years to identify how to bring Climate Change into fisheries advice. Holsman stresses, "These are new frontiers and we are learning from each other, these promising efforts helped inform WKCLIMAD and are in turn informed by our work". 

In Europe, ICES informed about mismatches between fish stock distributions and management areas – a major climate-induced challenge of managing fisheries – by holding a workshop to assess fish distribution changes and their drivers (WKFISHDISH), and recently held a follow-up workshop to develop tools to predict future fish distributions (WKFISHDISH2). ICES has been involved in large-scale EU-funded projects, such as ClimeFish, which aim to develop management plans to mitigate the threats and capitalize on the opportunities of climate change. 

Accounting for the influences of climate change in ICES advice will require an interdisciplinary approach that considers both ecological and social factors. It also requires a willingness to embrace uncertainty and be flexible in management approaches, as the impacts of climate change are complex and difficult to predict with certainty.

"ICES is certainly moving the bar on this as many countries are struggling with how to use the latest climate information in government decision-making ", notes Michael Rust, "The 2023 Global Risks Report, recently released by the World Economics Forum, lists the failure to mitigate and the failure to adapt to climate change as its top two risks to the global economy over the next 10 years. With WKCLIMAD, ICES has taken a step toward helping the fisheries, aquaculture, and marine ecosystem managers know what changes will need to happen to ease the transition".

Risk-based framework

Using the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a basis, WKCLIMAD has developed a proposal for an operational climate-aware advisory framework, recommending a risk-based approach that considers the magnitude and likelihood of climate impacts, effectiveness, and feasibility of measures. 

"A risk-based approach is a tried-and-tested method for planning and helps catalogue impacts and evaluate responses", states Holsmann, "The IPCC has used this approach for decades and has assembled much of the foundational information needed in terms of risk, impacts, and adaptation effectiveness for fisheries management and aquaculture".

How to move forward?

There are already many data, tools, and methods to incorporate climate impacts into ICES advice but it is important to consider how these are used. "You could use a tool that turns out to be inappropriate for stakeholders, managers, or governance environment", says Holsmann, "What might seem useful could be unfeasible to implement or ineffective once implemented in advice". While the FAO Strategy and various national approaches provide insights, ICES has a range of advisory needs -the degradation of the Baltic Sea environment, shifting distributions of fish between coastal states (mackerel), loss of sea ice in the Arctic, changes in environmental factors that need to be considered when planning new aquaculture sites - and must adapt these approaches to our specific challenges.

ICES will need to strengthen scientific evidence in a number of areas, including future scenarios of management options and ecosystem state, risk, vulnerability and resilience analysis of species, ecosystems, and human communities, trade-offs among potential actions, and incentives for best practice sharing including technological developments. To do so, we need to attract expertise from beyond our traditional areas of ecosystem and population dynamics and oceanography, to help refine goals, explore trade-offs between management objectives, and build a common understanding of the system and efficient pathways of action to governance.

Moving to resilience

"My hope, says Mark Dickey-Collas, “is that in the near future, one of the organizations that request advice will ask about fleet-based vulnerability to climate change, and how to build climate resilience into their fisheries management".

ECCWO5 and aquaculture

Several WKCLIMAD participants will hold a workshop at the Fifth International Symposium on the Effects of Climate Change on the World's Ocean to refine and expand WKCLIMAD's aquaculture work. NOAA has already expressed interest in using the workshop's approach and results to add climate information to its national aquaculture development activities. 

Read the report

The Workshop on pathways to climate-related advice (WKCLIMAD) report is now available to view or download from ICES library.

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Climate change in ICES network​​

ICES/PICES Strategic Initiative on Climate Change Impacts on Marine Ecosystems (SICCME)
ICES/PICES Workshop on Regional climate change vulnerability assessment for the Large Marine Ecosystems of the northern hemisphere 

ICES/PICES Workshop on Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental scenarios used in climate projection  modelling (WKPESTLE)

ICES Working Group on Seasonal-to-Decadal Prediction of Marine Ecosystems (WGS2D)​

Together with the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), ICES organizes the International Symposium on the Effects of Climate Change on the World’s Ocean. The fifth edition takes place 17–21 April 2023 in Bergen​, Norway.
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