December 11, 2017

Story: Small-Scale, Big Risk: Fortifying Pacific Fisheries

By: Nicole Kravec

In boxing terms, a “one-two punch” is a powerful combination of two blows delivered in rapid succession, often with perilous results if the opponent is ill-equipped. 

For many small-scale fisheries within the Pacific Islands, this one-two punch has become a one-two-three punch; a real-life triple threat.  

As the risks from this triple-threat of climate change, overfishing and environmental degradation continue to cost up to $50 billion annually in lost benefits – an amount that is expected to continue to grow – Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions researchers are developing a new framework to help some of these most at-risk communities fight back. 

Their findings, which provide information for communities, governments and regional institutions on how to respond and adapt to this triple-threat, were published in three separate articles in a special issue of Marine Policy. Together, these articles provide a reference guide for innovative and interdisciplinary management solutions and policy frameworks across local, national and transboundary scales. 

Here’s the catch. 

The vast majority of fish consumed around the world do not come from large commercial fisheries, but instead from small-scale coastal fisheries like those across the Pacific Islands. Despite their individual small sizes, taken together these traditional fisheries are important sources of food and income for hundreds of millions of people around the world. 

Yet despite their large combined reach, traditional small-scale fisheries have historically been ignored when it comes to policy and management. The Pacific Islands are especially vulnerable, where it is estimated that 75% of its coastal fisheries won’t meet food security needs by 2030. These challenges threaten the very viability of these communities. 

“A lot of impacts from climate change haven’t been incorporated into traditional fishing management yet, and they’re the most at risk” explains Elodie Le Cornu, one of the authors and Research Analyst at the Center for Ocean Solutions. Her paper addresses these challenges from a scientific perspective. She and her co-authors identify ways to incorporate climate change adaptation into small-scale fisheries management based on spatial planning case studies in Fiji and Papua New Guinea.  

“The threats that small-scale fisheries face can be addressed by various spatial management approaches, so long as these approaches are integrated with climate change understanding in consistent and comprehensive ways,” says Le Cornu. 

A distinct approach.

Pacific Islands are being disproportionately and uniquely impacted by this triple-threat through an onslaught of issues: rising temperatures, sea-level rise, saltwater intrusion of freshwater resources, coastal erosion, increases in extreme weather events, altered rainfall patterns, coral reef bleaching, and ocean acidification. Don Gourlie, another author and Early Career Law & Policy Fellow with the Center for Ocean Solutions, brought a legal perspective to these issues. He and his co-authors built from a participatory strategy and roadmap facilitated by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to identify several fisheries policy gaps and recommendations for Pacific Island countries and territories. 

“The fact that these countries are, at the moment, developing new legislation or revising their current legislation, makes this a great opportunity to incorporate this emerging concern around climate change pretty comprehensively,” Gourlie explains. 

Fighting back. 

Despite these scientific and legal strides forward, unintended consequences remain. In a different paper, Elena Finkbeiner, Early Career Social Science Fellow with the Center for Ocean Solutions, explored these adverse social outcomes that can occur. For example, whether a coastal community takes a proactive or reactive approach to sea level rise could have very different outcomes for fishers, those living in flood zones, or other vulnerable sections of the community. 

Together the authors explain that proactively identifying and addressing this triple-threat will be critical for equipping island nations, communities, and individuals to fight back - anticipating and adapting to change - not only for Pacific Islands, but for coastal communities around the world. 

Finkbeiner explains: “As a scientists and researchers informing policy, we have an important duty and responsibility to think about how climate change is affecting vulnerable societies. We hope that, in the future, we can avoid putting people at such risk to climate change and these other threats and build resilience for the people and ocean.”  



Author affiliations:

Additional authors from the Center for Ocean Solutions include Fiorenza Micheli, co-director and David and Lucile Packard Professor of Marine Science; Larry Crowder, affiliated researcher, professor of biology at Hopkins Marine Station and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment; Elena Finkbeiner, Early Career Science Fellow; and Angee N. Doerr, Coupled Human-Natural Systems Research Associate.  

Coauthors of “Exploring trade-offs in climate change response in the context of Pacific Island fisheries” include Nathan J. Bennett of the University of British Columbia and the University of Washington, Seattle; and Adam L. Ayers of the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.  

Coauthors of “Performing a “New Song”: Suggested Considerations for Drafting Effective Coastal Fisheries Legislation Under Climate Change” include Ruth Davis, James Marshman and Quentin Hanich of the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources & Security and Hugh Govan of the USP School of Government, Development & International Affairs and the Locally Managed Marine Area Network, Australia.  


This work was a collaborative effort with the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security and the Nippon Foundation Nereus Program.  


Header Image Credit: Jeremy from Sydney, Australia; Traditional Fishing, Oahu, Hawaii