When the Storm Comes…

Climate Change is already having a significant impact on our planet.  Indeed, even our largest resource and carbon sink is suffering- our oceans.

seychellesWhile once thought of as an abundant, even infinite source of food and wealth, our warming planet is changing all of that.  Coral reefs are bleaching.  Schools of tuna are changing their migratory paths.  And anadromous fish, like Pacific salmon species are struggling to complete life cycles.  Exacerbated by commercial over-fishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, many fish populations and fisheries are dangerously depleted.  This spells economic and food insecurity for many coastal communities- but especially for small-island developing states (SIDS) and archipelagos.  For these communities, this also means decreased resilience to the impacts of climate change.

But what can a small island nation do?  Implementing policies to restore marine fisheries and secure climate resilience through implementing sustainable practices costs money.  And many SIDS have limited financial resources and very little they can count on as an export to build financial capacity.  For Seychelles, a small archipelago in the Indian Ocean, the solution was found when its leaders turned their backs on the islands… and looked out to sea.

With 3000 times more ocean under its sovereignty that land, the ocean is an indispensable resource for Seychelles.  Still, Seychelles came into the Paris Agreement with a significant amount of national debt.  To alleviate that burden, it exchanged its debt for protecting its ocean- effectively relinquishing sovereignty of one-third of its oceans by placing it in a trust.  This expanded Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and helped to ensure fish stock recoveries.  To further build a sustainable fishery, Seychelles created a “Blue Bond” economy which uses bonds to fund the development of its sustainable fisheries.  The Blue Bond economy also consists of a Blue Grant Fund which is accessible to domestic fisherman and other fish-workers.  These funds are used as an incentive for those in the fishing industry to adopt sustainable practices.  Provided they comply with sustainable practices, funds are readily available to help them achieve and maintain those practices.

Blue economyWhy does this work so well?  Because this is a bottom-up approach where the government is in fact considered a “minority” entity.  The structure of this system does not rely on government control because the resource is placed in a trust.  How did they persuade the fisherman to get involved with establishing protected areas?  They simply asked them where they wanted to fish.  The fisherman initially refused to cooperate with the process- afraid to deviate from business as usual practices.  But when they were told that one morning they may wake up to find their favorite fishing area protected and off limits, the fisherman were persuaded to engage in the process.  Thus, collaborating with the fisherman included them in the process and strengthened the framework for the trust.

For Seychelles, talking about jobs, nutrition, food, and even people is synonymous with talking about marine resources and FISH!  The dependence on its surrounding ocean cannot be overstated.  As such, climate change poses a significant threat.  But by placing a large portion of its EEZ into protected areas and building a sustainable fishing economy, Seychelles has taken a precautionary approach to address the impacts of climate change.  The result?  Increased biomass, increased maximum sustainable yield, increased food security and climate resilience.  And with increased resilience comes the ability to adapt to the coming changes.  As Seychelles’ permanent representative to the U.N. stated; “When the storm comes, we will be ready.”

Shining a Light on Sustainable Fisheries Management


Back in October before COP23 began, I made the prediction that Fiji’s leadership at the COP would lead the focus towards ocean sustainability. Today, the Food and Agricultural Organization sponsored a series of side events in the Bonn Zone on ocean and coastal zone management. One side event, in particular, discussed the adaptation techniques of countries to climate change, particularly regarding fisheries and aquaculture. Natural fisheries are plummeting and sustainable ocean management is the best step forward. Senegal, in particular, has taken a hard stance on fisheries management with the strict appliance of its fisheries laws both domestically and to non-domestic actors within its jurisdiction. Senegal also saw an increase in marine protected areas with a total coverage of roughly 306,000 hectares while also an increase in their aquaculture programs to fight food scarcity.

Ernesto Peña-Lados the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries in the European Commission emphasized that the forward movement for sustainable fisheries management was not new laws but better programs. Mr. Peña-Lados made the insightful statement that there are several countries with good laws and poor management while those with less stringent laws maintained good management practices. This, he pointed out, was due to how the laws were implemented, enforced, and understood in the countries that undertook them. The laws were the same but the application is different.8794127-13911266

This is a bright light for our future. Oceans are finally receiving the interest they deserve and concern beyond that of rising sea levels and warmer waters. Fisheries sustain such a large portion of our population and if the laws are good enough, there is nothing to stop us from implementing them better.

Blue Carbon: A Solution

Coastal ecosystems such as tidal salt marshes, seagrass meadows, and mangrove forests, are “blue carbon ecosystems” because they act as carbon sinks. Blue ecosystems have the ability to sequester copious amountsmangrove-forest-1 of carbon. However, if they are destroyed, they increase GHG emissions. Scientists estimate approximately 1.02 billion tons of carbon dioxide is emitted per year by degraded coastal ecosystems. In addition, these ecosystems support coastal water quality, fisheries, provide recreational activities, support the tourism economy, and protect against extreme weather events.

Under the Paris Agreement countries must submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and National Determined Contributions (NDCs). In these, parties include information on the scope and impact of their mitigation and adaptation programs. Blue carbon 5054ee8189f79.imageecosystems are included in 28 countries’ NDCs for mitigation and in 59 countries’ adaptation strategies. While these numbers are growing, there is enormous potential benefit to incorporating blue ecosystems into NDCs. The blue carbon ecosystems are a significant part of countries’ NDCs as they act as a carbon sink, contribute to coastline protection, and food security. If coastal wetlands loss was halted by 50%, the equivalent would offset the emissions of Spain.

There are two main ways to address effective management of blue ecosystems to achieve this goal. The first is avoiding coastal wetland conversion by creating protected areas. Countries can also restore coastal wetlands. In order to facilitate these activities, multiple blue carbon institutions have been founded. The Blue Carbon Initiative works to restore and pr107397_webomote sustainable use of coastal and marine blue ecosystems by partnering governments, research institutions, NGOs, and local communities. The International Partnership for Blue Carbon works at building awareness, exchanging knowledge, and accelerating practical action. In addition the Nature Conservancy’s Blue Carbon program is also invested in this issue. The Nature Conservancy has been building a scientific foundation for conservation, identifying demonstration sites where wetlands can be conserved, and leveraging policy and financial mechanisms to ensure action.

Overall, blue carbon presents an area of great potential impacts upon GHG emissions. While the UNFCCC does not yet recognize “blue carbon,” it has been increasingly used in countries’ mitigation and adaptation strategies. With increased action being taken by international organizations, it is likely that blue carbon will play a significant role in lowering carbon emissions in the future. 

Small Island Developing States Fishing for Adaptation Solutions

Coral aquaculture in FijiFor Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Fiji, climate change adaptation requires immediate action. As my colleague Val analyzed previously, fish stocks are depleted and international tensions are rising as each nation attempts to protect the fishing economy it still maintains. When the Ocean Conference met in June of 2017, participants recognized the crucial role oceans play as a climate regulator and the impact the changing environment would have on food and nutrition. This will be particularly impactful on SIDS as fisheries fade; those nations now cast for ideas in alternative food options. Some SIDS have hooked on aquaculture as an adaptive strategy.

The average consumption of seafood in the world is roughly 20 kg/capita/year with 70% of SIDS exceeding that global average. That, with the rising ocean temperatures, the migration of fish out of their previously habitable areas and the unsustainable fishing practices, creates a massive deficit in global fish markets when measured against demand. This mismatch creates the perfect atmosphere for aquaculture development.

Biota-Palau-Hatchery-1In 2015, the total aquaculture production of SIDS was 71,893 tons, with Cuba manning the helm with around 30,000 tons. Overall, most nations produced less than 100 tons of aquaculture and the diversity of SIDS creates a particular problem with the implementation of any “one-size-fits-all” program. Branching off of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC)’s FAO program, Palau, Nauru, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) formed the Micronesian Association for Sustainable Aquaculture (MASA) in November of 2015. MASA’s goal is to facilitate region specific cooperative programs and assistance in order to meet demand and reduce market reliance on fish.

Implementation of these adaptation techniques is an issue that runs through COP 23 and is recognized also by the Oceans Conference. The Oceans Conference emphasized the need for sustainable development goals (SDG14), and a Blue Economy to support and finance ocean initiatives. It specifically mentioned the strengthening of sustainable economies with reference to aquaculture within their action plan. Based on that action plan, the Seychelles raised roughly $40 million towards their SDG14 and their INDC places a heavy emphasis on sustainable fisheries and adaptation to ocean climate change. This funding will have a substantial impact on their ocean economy. But funding is challenging to acquire. With the Green Climate Fund (GCF) increasing fund accessibility for least developed countries (LDC) for adaptation plans, this could present an opportunity for many nations who have already implemented or are in the process of implementing aquaculture plans to acquire necessary funding. While the GCF does not specifically address aquaculture as an adaptation strategy, several nations, including SIDS like Vanuatu and Tuvalu, have already included in their GCF proposals aquaculture adaptation strategies.

With the current momentum aquaculture dSustainable-Aquaculture.adapt.1190.1evelopment has gained in SIDS, COP 23 has the unique advantage for aquaculture and sustainable fishing measures with Fiji at its helm. While the focus of the Paris Agreement was the mitigation of effects to reduce the overall rise in temperature, adaptation still remains a strong focus for the countries that are feeling the most significant of those effects. Aquaculture has worked its way into the economies of many nations and will hopefully further alleviate the burden that climate change is having on SIDS.

Why New England Fishermen Should Care About COP21

Below is an extract from a post on TalkingFish.org, a blog of the Conservation Law Foundation.  Annie Warner, a third-year law student at VLS and a member of the law school’s COP21 observer delegation, wrote it. The original post may be found here.

The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) highlights the connections between climate change and fisheries. Climate change is causing a redistribution of marine species and a reduction of marine biodiversity in certain sensitive marine regions. AR5 notes that in the last few decades, marine fishes, invertebrates, and phytoplankton have changed in abundance and shifted to deeper and cooler waters. The report also explains how since the industrial era increased carbon in the atmosphere has been absorbed by the ocean, causing ocean acidity levels to rise.

We have already onew england fishermanbserved such changes in New England fisheries. As ocean temperatures in the region rise, we are finding cod moving north and to deeper waters. Similarly, lobstermen in southern New England are out of luck, with no lobsters to catch. Black sea bass have also shifted from the mid-Atlantic into the Gulf of Maine, and are becoming a new commercial species and a potential predator in the area.

Increased ocean acidity poses additional challenges for New England’s fisheries. In particular, acidic waters make it “less energetically favorable” for shellfish to secrete their calcium carbonate shells. This impacts oysters, clams, and scallops in New England, and results in destroyed larvae, stunted growth, and increased predation of such organisms. These local effects from climate change in New England’s ocean waters stem from what is a global problem.

In preparation for the Paris climate meeting, the U.S. has shared its commitment to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions in 2025 by 26-28 percent below its 2005 level. In order to successfully combat climate change, all parties to the UNFCCC must work together in Paris and come to a legally binding agreement on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale, and locally within New England, directly impact the health of our ocean and the prosperity of the fishermen and communities that depend on the ocean. Mitigating climate change is an important part of our efforts to protect special places in New England’s ocean and the fisheries that are so important to New England’s heritage.