Changing Seas: Adaptation of the Fisheries in the Mediterranean Basin

31 décembre 2023 | Focus | Anglais

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The Mediterranean region is situated at the crossroads of Africa, Europe, and Asia and exhibits notable environmental and cultural diversity and economic importance (Jones and Phillips, 2017; Broodbank, 2006). Despite covering a mere 0.8 percent of the Earth’s surface, the Mediterranean Sea stands as a biodiversity hotspot, housing approximately 17,000 marine species (Coll et al., 2010). This region encompasses 22 countries with a population of 465.5 million people (Hilmi et al., 2021). A key sector driving resource-based growth in the Mediterranean is fisheries (MedECC, 2020), which holds paramount economic and social significance, influencing food security, local economies, and community livelihoods, thereby shaping traditions and ways of life (Hilmi et al., 2021; FAO, 2023).

The diversity of Mediterranean fisheries is pronounced, reflecting the heterogeneity of the sea in terms of harvested species, fleet variety, hydrography, bathymetry, and productivity (Barange et al., 2018). This diversity is further underscored by the varying cultural, social, and economic conditions along the Mediterranean coastline (Stergiou et al., 2016). According to the FAO (2023), fisheries production in the Mediterranean region was approximately 660.5 thousand tons in 2021, which is less than last year (for example, in 1994, the fish production in the region was over one million tons). The total revenues of fisheries for the region’s countries reached USD 2.7 billion in 2021. Indeed, it has been estimated that fisheries contributed to the regional economy with the amount of USD 7.8 billion and supported 158 thousand jobs across the entire value chain in the region in 2021. The dominated catch species are small pelagic fish. Among the Mediterranean countries, Turkey is the largest contributor to fish capture, followed by Italy and Tunisia (FAO, 2023).

Mediterranean fisheries face threats from climate change and anthropogenic pressures as well (Lejeusne et al., 2010; Micheli et al., 2013). Overfishing has been the most significant human-induced threat in the Mediterranean region. However, controls and implemented policies have led to a decrease in the percentage of overexploited fish stocks from 73 percent in 2020 to 58 percent in 2021 (FAO, 2023). Besides, climate change poses serious risks to fisheries, impacting the spatial distribution of marine species (Schickele et al., 2021), altering marine biodiversity (Galappaththi et al., 2022), and contributing to reduced productivity in marine fisheries (Free et al., 2019; Holsman et al., 2020). These changes also have reverberating effects on local communities and their livelihoods, as well as broader implications for food security, recreational fisheries, national incomes, and tourism activities (Hidalgo et al., 2022b).

The crucial socio-economic importance of fisheries and aquaculture in ensuring food security, driving economic development, fostering employment, and income generation, highlights the necessity for taking thoroughly effective actions to adapt and mitigate to climate change. As highlighted by Aurelle et al. (2022), for socio–ecological systems like fisheries, adaptation involves changes in management, specifically to ensure sustainable provisioning of goods and services. This adaptation process encompasses a diverse array of biological and management mechanisms, allowing populations, species, ecosystems, and socio–ecological systems to find a way out, to resist, or to adjust to different environmental changes (Aurelle et al., 2022).

Climate Change has influenced fisheries unequally in different countries in the region. In fact, the influence of climate change on fisheries in countries has been intricately tied to their adaptive capacity. Nations that are less equipped for adaptation are affected more by climate change (Sunny et al., 2020). The adaptive capacity of fisheries refers to the ability to modify exposure to climate change risks, cope with its impacts, and capitalize on new opportunities during the adaptation process (Adger and Vincent, 2005). Countries with higher development levels possess more resources to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts (Cinner and Barnes, 2019; Cinner et al., 2019). Considering different social and economic development indices, Farahmand and Hilmi et al. (2023) highlighted Cyprus, Spain, and Slovenia as having the highest adaptive capacity in the context of fisheries in the Mediterranean region. France and Malta also ranked among countries with high adaptive capacity. Conversely, Syria, Libya, and Egypt displayed the lowest adaptation capacity. Fig 1. illustrates that Northern Mediterranean countries exhibit greater strength in dealing with climate change impacts on the fisheries sector, while North African countries face coping challenges.

Fig 1. The adaptive capacity of Mediterranean countries for fisheries.
Source: Farahmand, and Hilmi et al., 2023, p. 8.

To delve deeper into the complexities of adaptation, it’s crucial to understand the factors influencing vulnerability. Examining fisheries vulnerability to climate change, Farahmand and Hilmi et al. (2023) found that Slovenia, France, and Croatia are the least vulnerable countries in the region regarding the impact of climate change on their fisheries sector. Montenegro and Spain also belong to the less vulnerable category. In contrast, Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya emerged as the most vulnerable and all situated in the southern Mediterranean. In other words, fisheries in the southern Mediterranean are more vulnerable to climate change. Besides, the findings of this study confirm that the vulnerability of fisheries in the whole region would increase by the end of the century (Farahmand and Hilmi et al., 2023).

Numerous studies emphasize that a country’s adaptive capacity to climate change contributes to reducing vulnerability of the fisheries sector (Allison et al., 2009; Blasiak et al., 2017; Wabnitz et al., 2018; Chen et al., 2018; Pinnegar et al., 2019; Thiault et al., 2019; Wilson et al., 2020; Farahmand, Hilmi et al., 2023). The developing countries of the region face heightened vulnerability due to factors such as the scale of fishing operations, increased sensitivity, and limited access to essential resources required for adaptation (Farahmand, Hilmi et al., 2023).

Considering the significance of fisheries in environmental, economic, and social domains, the recognized threats and risks emphasize the necessity to enhance the efficacy of management systems in the Mediterranean. This improvement is not just a recommendation; it’s a requirement, as underscored by Cardinale and Scarcella (2017). Strengthening the resilience of fisheries is imperative to reduce vulnerability to climate change, necessitating swift responsiveness from Mediterranean managers to projected changes in marine resources and ecosystems (Hidalgo et al., 2022b).

Urgently addressing climate change impacts on the Mediterranean Sea requires the implementation of flexible marine management policies, allowing for progressive adaptation to evolving and extreme conditions (Hidalgo et al., 2022a). Delayed or insufficient actions might exacerbate climate change risks. For this reason, some studies like Hidalgo et al. (2022a) are emphasizing the urgency for integrated regional management and policies in the Mediterranean region and transitioning from risk identification to the implementation of adaptation measures (Hidalgo et al., 2022a). Moreover, monitoring environmental quality and potential biodiversity is a crucial step for adaptation, as emphasized by Danovaro and Pusceddu (2007).

Furthermore, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) play a considerable role in enhancing the resilience and adaptive capacity of ecosystems for the countries in the region (MedECC, 2020). However, there is a meaningful imbalance in MPA distribution, with a concentration along the northern shores of the basin and scarcity in the south and east coasts (Abdulla et al., 2008).

Adaptation strategies must exhibit medium- to long-term effectiveness, requiring careful and anticipatory planning to reap benefits reasonably soon and address problems while they are still manageable. Establishing active regional and local observation networks can enhance the effectiveness of managed adaptation strategies (MedECC, 2020). Hidalgo et al. (2018) highlighted some regional initiatives like the GFMC mid-term strategy, international cooperation projects, and the UN Environment Mediterranean Action Plan (UNEP/MAP), which might enhance the adaptive capacity of fisheries in the region. It is worth noting that robust partnership among governments, NGOs, and societies is essential for efficient climate change planning and decision-making (Hidalgo et al., 2018).

In conclusion, the adaptation of fisheries in the Mediterranean Sea demands a nuanced understanding of the interconnected challenges that policies address. Overfishing, climate change, and socio-economic disparities have caused a complex situation that requires multifaceted solutions. Beyond economic indicators, adaptation involves understanding the cultural, social, and historical dimensions that shape the resilience of the region’s communities. Addressing climate change impacts in the Mediterranean necessitates a collaborative, adaptive, and anticipatory approach to secure the future of its fisheries and the communities that depend on them. The complicated interlink between natural processes and human activities in this region requires not just immediate attention but a sustained commitment to fostering adaptation and resilience. Only through such concerted efforts we can ensure the continued vitality of the Mediterranean fisheries, preserving both ecological balance and human livelihoods for generations to come.

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