Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Fisheries at CBD

By Brian Thomson

Fisheries and aquaculture are important contributors to food security and livelihoods at household, local, national and global levels. Today's roundtable on fisheries at the CBD Biodiversity Conference (COP13) in Cancun highlighted that fish already provide essential nutrition for 3 billion people and 50 per cent of protein and essential minerals for 400 million people, mainly in poor countries.

Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director General of FAO, addressing the ministerial roundtable, said that biodiversity conservation is strongly linked to food security and poverty reduction.

"Aquatic systems are enormously biodiverse and a key challenge is increasing production while preserving our natural resources and dealing with climate change impacts," said Semedo. "We need an integrated approach to restore productive capacity and ecosystems services of our blue world. Mainstreaming biodiversity means a more participatory approach where biodiversity conservation is seen as an incentive. Sustainable management of fisheries should be our common goal and aspiration." 

Fisheries are under high pressure due to human activities including overexploitation, pollution and habitat change. Climate change is compounding these pressures, posing very serious challenges and limiting livelihood opportunities.

For millennia, small-scale fisheries and fish farmers have drawn on their indigenous knowledge and historical observations to manage seasonal and climate variability but today the speed and intensity of environmental change is accelerating, outpacing the ability of human and aquatic systems to adapt.

"Oceans and other water bodies are becoming warmer and may affect nutrient recycling and productivity of fisheries," said Margarita Astralaga, Director of IFAD's Environment and Climate Division. "Localized extinctions may occur if fish cannot migrate to cooler waters, for example, in lake fisheries. Fish migration paths could change, affecting small-scale fishers without suitable vessels to pursue migratory species. Increased spread of disease, reduced oxygen and increased risk of toxic algae blooms and fish kills will impact on aquaculture production."

Sea level rise combined with extreme weather events, like stronger storms, severely threatens coastal communities and ecosystems. Higher water tables and drainage problems may affect brackish-water aquaculture and destruction of fishing and aquaculture assets. There may also be fish escapes, increasing the risk of disease and parasitic infestation of world stock as well as impacting biodiversity.

Some lakes, rivers and water bodies are at risk of drying up. Changes in rainfall patterns and evaporation rates lead to changes in run-off, water levels, water availability and quality, and sedimentation patterns in inland and coastal water bodies, affecting the production of both fresh-water fisheries and aquaculture systems.

"In many cases, it is the poorest communities in the poorest countries that are most vulnerable to these changes," added Astralaga.

Fisheries more than any other modern food production system, depend on the health and natural productivity of the ecosystems on which they are based. Aquaculture, practised on a small-scale in rural areas in developing countries, is also dependent on ecosystem services for feed, seed and adequate supplies of clean water.

"The need to increase resilience to climate change is required for smallholder agriculture as well as for small-scale fisheries and aquaculture," said Astralaga, "IFAD continues to focus on country-led development, community-based natural resources management, gender equality and women's empowerment, access to financial services and markets, environmental sustainability and institutional capacity in the design of its fisheries and aquaculture interventions."

IFAD is integrating climate adaptation and mitigation in its fisheries and aquaculture operations through two multiple-benefit approaches namely; the ecosystem approach and co-management.

Fisheries and aquaculture are of particular concern to IFAD due to their importance to food and nutrition security; their close relationship with the environment and natural resources; their contribution to poverty reduction and employment, often in rural areas of developing countries where alternative economic opportunities are limited, and for gender equity as women dominate the post-harvest aspects of fisheries; and small-scale fishers (including processors) and fish farmers will be among the first to be significantly impacted by climate change.

Case studies – IFAD in action

IFAD supported projects include the Haor Infrastructure and Livelihoods Improvement Programme (HILIP) started in 2013 to support vulnerable communities in the Haor Basin in north eastern Bangladesh, an area faced with extreme climate events including heavy monsoon rains, cyclones, floods, storms and strong winds.

The basin is effectively flooded for six months annually, which seriously interrupt economic activities and their capacity to produce food. The aim of the project is to improve road infrastructure (i.e. bridges, culverts, canals), build local capacity and expand access to natural resources, technology and markets. Other interventions for climate resilience include an early warning system against adverse climate events, a community-based resource management model in priority water bodies ensuring communities have fishing rights, excavation of silted water bodies and establishment of fish sanctuaries and planting swamp trees. The project will also secure employment for poor rural women under infrastructure improvement contracts and it will support women's income-generating activities. Additional financial support has been provided to enhance climate adaptation and resilience through a complementary project, Climate Adaptation and Livelihood Improvement Programme (CALIP).

The Fisheries Resources Management Programme (FRMP) in Eritrea was designed in 2016 and seriously takes environment and climate change vulnerability analysis and risk mitigation measures into account. There is one component addressing coastal ecosystem management through an integrated approach, which includes mangrove planting and management and inter-sectorial  development planning. It will establish a fisheries monitoring, surveillance and management system to ensure effective measures such as gear restrictions, closed areas and seasons and adaptation to eventual changes in the migratory movement patterns of the pelagic fish species. Solar technologies will be promoted for fish preservation and processing. Another component will support inland aquaculture through water reservoirs to increase productive use of the scares water resources in the country (only reservoirs with low risk of water depletion will be used). Fish species with high resistance to local climate related stress will be selected.

Finding and applying management approaches that avoid unsustainable fishing practices and that enable stocks to recover are essential elements in a strategy to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity. A number of key strategic actions for accomplishing this, are being explored during COP13.

The overarching principles of sustainable fisheries have been agreed to, and are stipulated in, a number of international instruments at COP13. These represent a comprehensive global framework for fisheries policy and management and support mainstreaming of biodiversity in fisheries and aquaculture. However, there is a need for the strengthening of fisheries management agencies, particularly with regard to governance and assessment so that biodiversity considerations are explicitly part of their work and accountability, as well as constructive interagency collaboration, and meaningful participation of biodiversity experts and relevant stakeholders in the fisheries management process.

Engaging the fishing sector is critical to the successful implementation of sustainable marine conservation and management measures. The governance of marine fisheries and the conservation of marine biodiversity continue to evolve; coherence between them remains critical if each is to achieve its goals.

Approaches for enhancing the integration of biodiversity and sustainability of fisheries include:

·       Making greater use of rights-based and innovative fisheries management systems, such as community co-management, that provide fishers and local communities with a greater stake in the long-term health of fish stocks;
·       Eliminating, reforming or phasing out those subsidies which are contributing to overfishing;
·       Enhancing, in each country, monitoring and enforcement of regulations to prevent illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing by flag-vessels;
·       Phasing out fishing practices and gear which cause serious adverse impacts to the seafloor or to non-target species; and
·       Developing marine protected area networks and other effective area based conservation measures, including the protection of areas particularly important for fisheries, such as spawning grounds, and vulnerable areas;

Appropriate approaches for addressing biodiversity considerations in fisheries management will be situation-specific and depend greatly on the capacities and information available. The political will and resources to enable fisheries management agencies to fully deliver on a mandate to address fisheries and biodiversity issues is also needed as is enhanced regional cooperation between fisheries and environmental agencies.