Marine and fisheries

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

Climate change is expected to have severe impacts on the marine environment. Increase in water temperatures will contribute to a restructuring of marine ecosystems with implications for ocean circulation, biogeochemical cycling and marine biodiversity. Ocean acidification will affect the ability of some calcium carbonate-secreting species (as molluscs, planktons and corals) to produce their shells or skeletons. Warmer and more acidic seawater will therefore negatively affect fishery and aquaculture. Moreover, the intensification of extreme events is expected to affect human maritime activities other than fishery, as maritime transport, port activities and offshore energy production.

Policy framework

The 2021 EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change aims to realize the 2050 vision of a climate-resilient Europe, including all sectors including the oceans, by making the adaptation process:

  • smarter: the Strategy stresses the importance of closing the gap on climate impacts and resilience For marine and fisheries, this implies strengthening ocean measurements and observations as well as scientific information hubs such as Copernicus marine service and the European Marine Observation Network (EMODnet) as free and open data providers to all users worldwide;
  • more systemic: the Commission will assess, through the reporting process, how the Common Fisheries Policy properly caters for climate change adaptation. To foster adaptation at local level, local and regional authorities will be assisted in their adaptation initiatives by strengthening the EU and Global Covenant of Mayors, also encouraging greater involvement of FLAGs (Fisheries Local Action Groups). The Strategy also encourages the exchange of best practices and solutions to common adaptation challenges, highlighting the role of Nature-Based Solutions for marine and coastal ecosystems as multipurpose, no-regret and effective solutions, with potential also for carbon sequestration;
  • faster: the Commission will implement the Planned Horizon Europe including oceans in its missions that are directly relevant for adaptation;
  • international: the Adaptation Strategy 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. The Commission will engage with regional fisheries management organisations, including the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine living Resources, to promote adaptation and new marine protected areas. Global and regional adaptation-relevant initiatives (such as the All-Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance) will be supported to strengthen global engagement and exchanges in adaptation.

In May  2021, the Commission has 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 that 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 (IPM) seeks to provide a more coherent and coordinated approach to marine and maritime issues, also considering climate change.

The Integrated Maritime Policy includes the following cross-cutting policies:

  • Blue Growth, the long term strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors;
  • Maritime data and knowledge, a system that helps industry, public authorities and researchers find the data and make more effective use of them to develop new products and services and improves our understanding of how the seas behave;
  • Maritime Spatial Planning, a tool and process to plan and regulate human uses at sea, aiming to maximise synergies and minimise conflicts;
  • Integrated maritime surveillance, providing authorities with ways to exchange information to improve effectiveness and reduce costs;
  • Sea basin strategies, exploiting the strengths and addressing the weaknesses of each large sea region in the EU.

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is the IMP’s environmental pillar. It establishes a common framework within which Member State are required to take the necessary measures to achieve and maintain Good Environmental Status (GES) of the EU's coastal and marine waters by 2020 and to protect the resource base upon which marine-related economic and social activities depend. Under MSFD, and in developing their respective national marine strategies, Member States need to specify, where appropriate, any evidence of climate change impacts. The Commission adopted a report on the first implementation cycle of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive in June 2020. This report, required by Article 20 of the Directive 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 pollution.

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.


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, hold 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 lot of effort in bringing together marine data from different sources (Marine Knowledge 2000). EMODNET, the European Marine Observation and Data Network, 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 environment monitoring 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.

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


Supporting investment and funding

EU funding for adaptation has been supported by the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020, which ensured that climate adaptation actions have been integrated into all the major EU spending programmes.

The new MFF 2021-2027 is providing 30% of its budget to fight climate change. Within the Common Fisheries Policy, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) supported the European fisheries and aquaculture sectors towards more sustainable fishing practices, and coastal communities in diversifying their economies. A Commission Staff Working Document (2014) provided principles and recommendations for integrating climate change adaptation considerations under the EMFF Operational Programmes. The new 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.

Successive European Union Framework Programmes (EU FPs) have supported multidisciplinary research on how climate change affects marine systems. Regional climate research initiatives have contributed to the overall knowledge of major issues (e.g. BALTIC EARTH in the Baltic Sea, MPA-ADAPT in the Mediterranean, RECLAIM in the North Sea). Moreover, the EU´s Research and Innovation programme 2014– 2020 (Horizon 2020), has provided the framework and funding to further improve the knowledge base also covering adaptation in the marine and fisheries sector (e.g. SOCLIMPACT, ClimeFish). The new Horizon Europe include Climate Change Adaptation among its mission areas. New opportunities are expected by the proposed Mission Starfish 2030: Restore our Ocean and Waters (2020) that aims to know, restore and protect our ocean and waters by 2030. Further information on funding can be found here.

Highlighted indicators

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Highlighted case studies

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