Marine and fisheries

Storjungfrun, Vallvik, Sweden
Image credits: Fredrik Öhlander on Unsplash, 2017

Key messages

  • The impacts of climate change on seawater is cumulating with other anthropogenic pressures both at sea and on coastal areas which is already impacting fisheries and marine aquaculture with altered yields and change in fishing grounds and target species.  Moreover, the intensification of extreme events, with harsher conditions in open seas, is expected to affect all blue economy sectors.
  • The EU is addressing those impacts through setting up scientific information hubs such as Copernicus marine service and the European Marine Observation and Data Network as free and open data providers to all users worldwide. It also aims to achieve the Good Environmental Status of the EU's coastal and marine waters addressing adaptation to climate change through the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and by developing and using Nature-Based Solutions for marine and coastal ecosystems.
  • The European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund 2021-2027 supports innovative projects that contribute to the sustainable exploitation and management of aquatic and maritime resources, including on adaptation to climate change.

Impacts and vulnerabilities

Seawaters are getting warmer, more acidic and with reduced oxygen content, as a consequence of global climate change. Water warming results in shifting species distributions and alteration of growth and distribution of fish populations. Ocean acidification will affect the ability of some calcium carbonate-secreting species (as molluscs, planktons, and corals) to produce their shells or skeletons. Deoxygenation affects the spatial distribution of species and, especially in enclosed basins and estuaries, larger and more frequent events of hypoxia and anoxia, affecting the survival of species and degrading the ecosystem health. Climate change is cumulating with other anthropogenic pressures both at sea and on coastal areas, with combined effects on marine ecosystems and key ecosystem services. Fisheries and marine aquaculture are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, with altered yields and change in fishing grounds and target species.  Moreover, the intensification of extreme events, with harsher conditions in open seas, is expected to affect all blue economy sectors as maritime transport, port activities and offshore energy production.

 

Policy framework

The EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change (2021) aims to realize the 2050 vision of a climate-resilient Europe. The Adaptation will be smarter by closing the gap on climate impacts and resilience. Ocean measurements and observations will be strengthened as well as scientific information hubs such as Copernicus marine service and the European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet) as free and open data providers to all users worldwide. Adaptation will be more systemic by strengthening the link with the Common Fisheries Policy and other EU initiatives that assist local adaptation also encouraging greater involvement of Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGs). The role of Nature-Based Solutions for marine and coastal ecosystems is remarked as multipurpose, no-regret and effective solutions, with potential also for carbon sequestration. New funding initiatives (including Horizon Europe) will make the adaptation faster. Finally, the Adaptation Strategy, to make the adaptation international recognizes the need to include climate change considerations in future agreements to protect international resources, such as international fisheries and biodiversity, even in areas beyond national jurisdictions.

In May 2021, the Commission adopted a new approach for a sustainable blue economy in the EU, endorsing the principles of the European Green Deal. It recognises the devastating effects of climate change on oceans and coasts, and the cumulative impacts generated by economic activities at sea. It encourages businesses to use or generate renewable resources, preserve marine ecosystems, reduce pollution and increase resilience to climate change.

Furthermore, the EU has defined an articulated framework of cross-cutting and sector policies relevant for the sustainable management and governance of the sea. The EU Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) seeks to provide a more coherent and coordinated approach to marine and maritime issues, also considering climate change. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is the IMP’s environmental pillar. It establishes a common framework requiring Member States to take the necessary measures to achieve and maintain Good Environmental Status of the EU's coastal and marine waters. Under the MSFD, and in developing their respective national marine strategies, Member States need to specify, where appropriate, any evidence of climate change impacts. 

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) forms the basis of EU fisheries policy. CFP defines a set of common rules aiming to ensure that fishing and aquaculture are environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable and that they provide a source of healthy food for EU citizens. Sustainable fisheries, delivered through the CFP, are necessary for increasing resilience and delivering the European Green Deal.

 

Improving the knowledge base

The most recent knowledge on how the ocean and cryosphere have and are expected to change with ongoing global warming has been assessed in the 2019 IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC). The report considers risks and opportunities these changes bring to ecosystems and people, and mitigation, adaptation and governance options for reducing future risks. The effects of climate change associated to global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2ºC  on marine biodiversity, fisheries, and ecosystems have been assessed in the 2018 IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5 °C.

Following the discussion arising from the SROCC, the Because the Ocean initiative’s Ocean for Climate Report and the Ocean & Climate Platform’s Policy Recommendations were presented at the UNFCC COP25, held in Madrid in December 2019. This COP was announced by its president as a “Blue COP” recognising the close links between the health of the climate and the health of the ocean.

The challenge posed by climate change to fisheries and aquaculture as well as the adaptation responses are the core of two FAO reports: Global synthesis of current knowledge, adaptation and mitigation options (2018) and Adaptive management of fisheries in response to climate change (2021).

As part of its IMP policy, the EU is putting a lot of effort in bringing together marine data from different sources (Marine Knowledge 2000). EMODNET provides access to a wide variety of data, products and metadata related to bathymetry, geology, seabed habitats, chemistry, biology, physics and human activities. Moreover, the Copernicus marine service provides regular and systematic reference information on the state of the physical oceans and regional seas, while the European Atlas of the Sea shares a diverse range of spatial information about Europe’s seas and coasts.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are internationally recognised as a tool to support both adaptation and mitigation. An overview and perspectives for the future of MPAs are in the EEA report MPA networks in Europe's seas (2015). Based on the ETC/ICM study Spatial Analysis of Marine Protected Area Networks in Europe's Seas, an EEA briefing (2018) on MPAs was published.

EU funded projects (e.g. MPA-ADAPT and MPA-ENGAGE for the Mediterranean, ATLAS for the Atlantic) have provided significant insights for climate change adaptation on this topic. Decision supporting frameworks and tools have been developed to assist decision makers towards adaptation. The Adaptation Support Tool for Islands was developed by the SOCLIMPACT project to assist policy makers in designing tailored climate change adaptation strategies and plans for their islands. The ClimeFish decision support framework contains decision support resources and systems with the overall goal to help ensure sustainable seafood production in the face of climate change. 

 

Supporting investment and funding

The new MFF 2021-2027 is providing 30% of its budget to fight climate change. The European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund 2021-2027 (EMFAF) supports innovative projects that contribute to the sustainable exploitation and management of aquatic and maritime resources, also helping fulfil the objectives of the European Green Deal, the roadmap for the EU climate and environmental policies.

The LIFE programme co-finances projects that include the restoration of marine and coastal ecosystems, increasing resilience to climate change. The new Horizon Europe includes a mission area for Adaptation to climate change including societal transformation and a mission area for Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters. New opportunities are expected by the proposed under  “Mission Starfish 2030: Restore our Ocean and Waters” (2020) that aims to know, restore and protect our ocean and waters by 2030. JPI Oceans is an intergovernmental platform, for long-term collaboration, open to all EU Member States and Associated Countries who invest in marine and maritime research. Climate change is a strategic area of the JPI Ocean’s strategy 2021-2025, within a framework of interconnected priority areas for a resilient oceans.

A comprehensive overview can be found on the EU funding of adaptation measures page.

 

Supporting the implementation

Commission Staff Working Document provided principles and recommendations for integrating climate change adaptation considerations under the EMFAF Operational Programmes. FARNET is the community of people implementing Community-Led Local Development under the EMFAF. This network brings together FLAGs, managing authorities, citizens and experts from across the EU to work on the sustainable development of fisheries and coastal areas. Under the EU Adaptation Strategy, a greater involvement of regional bodies through these groups is envisaged. The FARNET Guide ‘Forward-looking strategies for fisheries areas reported that through local projects of awareness raising and support to initiatives promoting lifestyle changes that favour local and sustainable products and services, FLAGs can assist communities towards climate change mitigation and adaptation.

 

MRE of adaptation

The Report on the first implementation cycle of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2020) shows that while the EU’s framework for marine environmental protection is one of the most comprehensive and ambitious worldwide, it needs to be beefed up to be able to tackle predominant pressures such as overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices, plastic litter, excess nutrients, underwater noise and others types of environmental pressures, e.g., pollution. While climate change is reported among the key pressures for the marine environment put forward by Member States, key topics such as ocean acidification in European seas and the impacts of marine heatwaves on marine biodiversity are not well established in the monitoring schemes at EU levels. Effectively managed marine protected areas are part of the programme of measures of national marine strategies, intended to avoid the loss and degradation of species and habitats, increase coastal protection and ecosystem resilience in the face of global changes.

Highlighted indicators

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Highlighted case studies

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