7th SPC Heads of Fisheries Meeting Discusses Impact of Climate Change

4 March 2011: The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) convened the 7th SPC Heads of Fisheries Meeting from 1-4 March, in Noumea, New Caledonia. The meeting brought together fisheries representatives from 14 Pacific Island Countries and included a one-day session on climate change, where delegates considered the impact of climate change on Pacific fisheries.

Key messages presented to delegates by regional and international experts included that climate change is predicted to cause large declines in coastal fisheries resources in the region, with potential production cut by as much as 50% by 2100. The impacts are predicted due to higher sea temperatures, ocean acidification and loss of important habitats like coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves. Mariculture, the farming of saltwater fish and shellfish, is expected to be negatively impacted. Pearl culture, the most valuable aquaculture in the Pacific, is also expected to suffer as rising levels of carbon dioxide cause increased ocean acidity, making it harder for pearl oysters to form their shells. Seaweed farming is also predicted to be impacted as higher water temperatures increase the risk of disease in seaweed.

Some positive impacts of climate change were also highlighted. These included that freshwater fisheries in countries near the equator could potentially become more productive as a result of increased rainfall. Specifically, commonly farmed freshwater fish like tilapia could benefit from increased freshwater availability and higher temperatures.

Predicted impacts of climate change on the region's largest fishery, tuna, were mixed. Models of the abundance and distribution of skipjack tuna suggested some increase in production potential over the next 25 years, but a small reduction in the longer term. In addition, tuna fishing grounds are expected to shift generally eastwards, with countries in Polynesia the primary beneficiaries. For bigeye, the most valuable of the four tunas in the region which is already subject to overfishing, the projections are less promising, climate change is expected to cut production in all Pacific Island countries by 2100.

The biennial SPC Heads of Fisheries Meeting provides technical oversight of all SPC work in the field of fisheries and aquaculture, as well as an opportunity to discuss in detail topics of special interest. SPC is currently coordinating the production of a comprehensive assessment of the vulnerability of fisheries and aquaculture to climate change in the 22 Pacific Island countries and territories based on information compiled by teams of experts. The session included presentations from experts on the key results of the assessment. [SPC Press Release]