SPC Book Highlights Climate Change Impact on Pacific Fisheries

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New Caledonia – Climate change poses a fresh challenge to Pacific nations already facing many pressures to sustain their fish resources – a vital source of food.

A new book, Vulnerability of Tropical Pacific Fisheries and Aquaculture to Climate Change, claims there will be winners and losers from climate change, and the way Pacific governments react and adapt will be vital.

The book is published by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), and was launched at the Conference of the Pacific Community in Noumea today by Mr James Batley, Deputy Director General of AusAID (the Australian Agency for International Development).

[(L to R) Marshall Islands President Honourable John M. Silk, SPC Director-General Dr Jimmie Rodgers, one of the book’s authors Dr Johann Bell (back) and Mr James Batley, Deputy Director General Asia, Pacific and Program Enabling Group, AusAID at the book launch in Noumea, New Caledonia yesterday.]

Heads of government, ministers and ambassadors from 22 Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) and Australia, France, New Zealand and the USA are in Noumea to discuss the impact of climate change on food and drinking water – one of the most critical issues facing the Pacific region today.

Dr Johann Bell, Principal Fisheries Scientist with SPC’s Strategic Engagement, Policy and Planning Facility and one of the book’s three editors, says the losers will include those who continue to depend on coral reef fisheries.

‘Higher sea temperatures, ocean acidification, and loss of important habitats like coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves and intertidal flats are expected to have a dramatic impact on the fish and shellfish that support many coastal communities,’ Dr Bell says.

‘Coral reefs are very likely to suffer a lot of damage due to the changing climate, and coastal communities will have to find new sources of food.’

He says that the communities will need to transfer their fishing effort from coral reef fisheries to the rich tuna resources of the region.

A winner under climate change will be the freshwater fisheries that are so important to the inland population of Papua New Guinea. The book also outlines the expected improvement of conditions for freshwater pond aquaculture.

But this will not be enough to feed the rapidly increasing populations of the Pacific Islands, and they will need to rely more on tuna as a source of food.

SPC Director-General Dr Jimmie Rogers says the book is the most comprehensive analysis of the impact of climate change on Pacific fisheries and aquaculture, and the ecosystems that underpin these vital activities.

‘The reality is that there will be countries in the Pacific with increased populations and fewer fish to eat. We ignore the book at our peril because it contains sound scientific analyses, hard-hitting key messages and policy options,’ he says.

‘It gives Pacific leaders the opportunity to look 20 years ahead and plan for the future.’

Dr Bell says the final chapter in the book sets out ways that the Pacific nations can adapt to the new circumstances. These include installing more fish aggregating devices (FADs) to attract tuna closer to shore, encouraging some communities to grow fish in freshwater ponds, and improving management of mining and forestry industries to prevent sediments and nutrients from spoiling fish habitat.

The book includes contributions from 88 international scientists and fisheries specialists and took three and a half years to bring together. It was written with the support of AusAID.

Vulnerability of Tropical Pacific Fisheries and Aquaculture to Climate Change was edited by Dr Johann Bell, Johanna Johnson and Alistair Hobday.

PDF and e-book editions are available for download at http://www.spc.int/climate-change/fisheries/assessment/e-book/