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Adaptation option

Diversification of fisheries and aquaculture products and systems

Diversification of fisheries and aquaculture means a substantial change in the production activity, responding to changes in the availability of fish stocks (for fisheries) and/or in changes in the environmental state of the marine system driven by climatic and other challenges. Diversification strategies include shift towards alternative species or – in case of aquaculture - new genetic strains, as well as to management practices more suitable to changed conditions. The adaptation process can also include initiatives of business diversification (temporary or permanent) outside the sector, developing new fishing related activities (e.g. eco-tourism with fishing vessels) that can provide complementary sources of income for operators. Diversification is a process carried out by individual local producers or better by networks and associations of producers having stronger business capacity, and benefiting from cross-sectoral cooperation with other related businesses (e.g. market, tourism) and from the support of public authorities.

For fisheries, actions include adaptation of gears (new sustainable gears or flexible gears able to catch different species, better adapted to changed conditions, in different environments) and adaptation of vessels that can pursue the fish resource in different locations, increasing fishers’ mobility as fish stock distribution shifts with changing ocean conditions.

For aquaculture, changes in cultured species and/or different genetic strains can contribute to reduce vulnerability of the sector to climate change, shifting towards more climate resilient organisms that grow better under changed conditions. For example, saline intrusions and storm surges will favour the farming of brackish water and euryhaline species, while high water temperatures and turbidity could favour species that tolerate low dissolved oxygen levels. Other changes in aquaculture practices have being increasingly promoted to improve the environmental performance, productivity and profitability of aquaculture production, resulting in positive effects on mitigation and adaptation to climate change, even whenever climate change is not explicitly included among main drivers. Examples include recirculating aquaculture systems, integrated multitrophic aquaculture and offshore aquaculture providing additional opportunities for using new species or strains in aquaculture. Risk-based zoning and siting of aquaculture, including risks from climate variability and change, can support diversification whenever new areas for production are in the process of being explored, avoiding economic losses from choices that do not properly take into account all concerns and risks. Aquaculture diversification was the scope of a FAO Technical Workshop held in Rome in June 2016 highlighting its role to provide resilience in the face of a changing climate and other external drivers, adding economic, social and ecological insurance to aquaculture systems.

It is highly important that diversification actions do not increase the fishing effort and are coherent with the objectives set by the Common Fisheries Policy, pursuing for sustainable fisheries as well as conservation of fish stocks and marine resources. In any case, diversification of captured or cultivated species should follow science-based assessments regarding ecosystem health, biosafety and biosecurity, as well as comprehensive economic and social studies. Furthermore, diversification of products and systems must not lead to greater vulnerability of the sector in the medium-long term to achieve benefits in the short term. Unsustainable practices, such as fishing beyond sustainability limits or in new location without sustainability assurances or with no sustainable gears are examples of maladaptation responses to the challenges posed by climate and other changes, with long-term detrimental consequences on stocks and marine ecosystems.

Diversification of products from aquaculture and fisheries also implies diversification of markets that should adapt in response to challenges and opportunities posed by climate changes. In this context, actions include measures aimed to raise consumer perception towards fishing products with a sustainability brand and to change consumers’ behaviour. Consumer demand of alternative species should be encouraged and the sale of catches of emerging species should be promoted, as resulted also from case studies developed within the Horizon 2020 funded ClimeFish (e.g. Adriatic Sea Fisheries, West of Scotland Fisheries).

Finally, shifting from fisheries to sustainable aquaculture, shifting from marine to inland production and developing complementary economic activities to fisheries and aquaculture(e.g. tourism-related initiatives using fishing vessels) are other examples of diversification outside the sector, relieving pressure on fish stocks and creating transition to new business opportunities relying on less vulnerable resources. In this regard, results from the Horizon 2020 funded Muses project, which aimed to explore the opportunities for Multi-Use in European Seas, indicate several examples for diversification of fisheries towards eco-tourism related activities, contributing to reduce fishing pressure, promoting sustainable fishing practices and providing complementary income sources for fishermen.

Additional Details
Reference information

Adaptation Details

IPCC categories

Institutional: Government policies and programmes, Social: Behavioural

Stakeholder participation

Fishermen and aquaculture operators, especially clustered in cooperative associations are the main actors for diversification that can also benefit from other commercial business (processing industry, marketing organisations) and from consumers associations to achieve mutually agreed goals. Public authorities, such as decision makers and regulators, locally implementing European and national policies and releasing licences for new activities, can have a major role, making possible and more flexible the process of diversification.

Success and Limiting Factors

The adoption of gears and vessels adapted to catch different species and/or in different habitats may require larger vessels for longer trips and significant investments in gear development. Longer travels and longer time spent at sea also mean higher costs for fuel and crew wages and increased exposure to risks. In this context, any new practice should be developed taking into account the sustainability principles set out in the Common fisheries Policy and should not to lead to overexploitation of fish stocks.

Access to capital and cost of new vessels is a critical issue, especially for smaller enterprises, while changing gear is even not possible for highly specialised vessels such as beam-trawlers. Furthermore, changing fishing grounds may take vessels into the waters of other countries, thus necessitating fishing agreements and transboundary management for quota allocation.

For aquaculture, the cost of developing techniques for farm new species and the time required to bring these species to the market are significant constraints, as well as legislative and management restrictions, hindering changes and flexibility.

In general, research development and technological innovations, also encouraged by public investments, can help finding alternative species, climate adapted strains and new farming or harvest systems, that reduce susceptibility to climate change. For diversification in aquaculture, especially into new production technology and new geographic areas, key success factors are represented by suited legislative regulations and possibly incentives that encourage technological development and business changes.

Information campaigns and educational activities can help behavioural changes of consumers, opening markets to new species. Training initiatives for fishermen and aquaculture operators can also favour diversification process, encouraging new business opportunities, including those related to tourism.

Costs and Benefits

Information on costs is generally missing in existing examples of adaptation, also considering that there is little evidence of diversification initiatives currently being used in response to climate change. Costs are expected to be highly variable, considering the different diversification possibilities included in this adaptation option. Investment costs to change products and systems are reported as major constraints to adaptation, especially for small scale enterprises.

Within the Common Fisheries Policy, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund supports the European fisheries and aquaculture sectors towards more sustainable fishing practices, and coastal communities in diversifying their economies. Though not specifically linked to climate change, EMFF supports (according to the priority 1 of the Union regarding the Sustainable development of fisheries) investments contributing to the diversification of the income of fishermen through the development of complementary activities. According to the Commission Staff Working document concerning principles and recommendations for integrating climate change adaptation considerations under EMFF operational programmes (SWD(2013) 299 final), this can result in relieving pressure on fish stocks and creating businesses resilient to current and projected changes in climatic conditions.

Implementation Time

Information relating time frames associated with adaptation strategies and evaluations of success in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors is often missing. More research is needed to assess time of adaptation. Time also depends on different typologies of actions and varies from planned adaptation actions (involving governance, legislative and policy change), and reactive adaptation, including autonomous upgrading of fishing and aquaculture systems in response to climatic variability.

Reference information


FAO, (2018). Impacts of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture. Synthesis of current knowledge, adaptation and mitigation options. FAO, Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical paper. ISSN 2070-7010 627.

FAO, (2017). Planning for aquaculture diversification: the importance of climate change and other drivers. FAO fisheries and aquaculture proceedings, 47.

ClimeFish case studies, virtual factsheets

Frontier Economics, Irbaris, Ecofys, (2013). Economics of Climate Resilience Natural Environment Theme: Sea Fish CA0401. A report prepared for Defra and the devolved administrations.

Published in Climate-ADAPT Mar 17 2020   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Feb 06 2024

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