Our Fisheries sector in the context of Climate Change … creating economic value

Fishing has always undeniably been a source of survival in the Caribbean region, dating back to the first people, as a means of feeding one’s family initially and also as a commodity used in the early trade days of barter. Today, despite having come a long way from bartering our catch, we are still heavily dependent on the sea for our economic growth and sustainability.

Here in Trinidad and Tobago, we have a coastline of approximately 470km with a diverse marine habitat due to the influence of the South American river systems. While recreational fishing is still a popular hobby amongst many nationals, commercial landings, i.e. fish brought ashore for the purpose of retail and wholesale, account for approximately 90% of the total landings in the country. There are over 80 landing sites in Trinidad and 20 in Tobago, providing a range of services from simple storage to large structures that provide repair, maintenance, storage for equipment and market facilities. The catch is generally purchased by wholesale buyers who would then transport them to wholesale fish markets – Port of Spain, Orange Valley, Otaheite and Claxton Bay for distribution. It may also be transported to supermarkets, retail vendors or hotels and restaurants.

There are several Processing Plants operating in Trinidad and Tobago which convert the fresh fish to dried, salted or smoked for local consumption. Shrimp, flying fish, dolphin (mahi mahi), swordfish, snappers and tuna are chilled or frozen and plied for international trade, mainly to other CARICOM countries, Canada and the USA.

Exploited maine resources

Overfishing in our waters is a major concern as previous research indicates that our marine resources are either heavily or over exploited. The fisheries and marine industry accounts for employment both directly and indirectly through sales, repairs, preservation, marketing etc.

In light of the above, monitoring climate change has to be of utmost importance.

According to the FAO, coastal communities, fishermen and fish farmers are already profoundly affected by climate change. Rising sea levels, acid oceans, floods and drought are some of the effects of climate change. Climate change is modifying the distribution and production of marine and freshwater species. The consequences of sustainability of aquatic ecosystems for fisheries and aquaculture, and for the people that depend on them, are uncertain. The very livelihood of coastal communities are threatened and they will bear the major fall out if systems are not put in place to reverse climate change. While the coastal communities can be severely affected by the impact of climate change, there are several other stakeholders that can also be affected in different ways. Some of these stakeholders include State and Regulatory Bodies, Processors, Retailers, Wholesalers, Consumers, to name a few. There needs to be increased awareness of the effects of climate change and proactive measures need to be put in place to reduce the impacts.

Building resilience

Global emissions of greenhouse gases is the major cause of climate change and as such reducing same is of paramount importance. Fisheries and aquaculture need specific adaptation and mitigation measures that:

  •  improve the management of fisheries and aquaculture and the integrity and resilience of aquatic ecosystems
  • respond to the opportunities for and threats to food and livelihood security due to climate change impacts
  • help the fisheries and aquaculture sector reduce greenhouse gas emissions

In order to build resilience to climate change, the FAO suggests that governments:

  •  Implement comprehensive and integrated ecosystem approaches to managing coasts, oceans, fisheries, aquaculture; to adapting to climate change; and to reducing risk from natural disasters
  • Move to environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient fishing and aquaculture practices
  • Eliminate subsidies that promote overfishing and excess fishing capacity
  • Provide climate change education in schools and create greater awareness among all stakeholders
  • Undertake assessments of local vulnerability and risk to achieve climate proofing
  • Integrate fisheries with other sectors
  • Build local ocean-climate models
  • Strengthen our knowledge of aquatic ecosystem dynamics and biogeochemical cycles such as ocean carbon and nitrogen cycles.
  • Encourage sustainable, environmentally friendly biofuel production from algae and seaweed
  • Encourage funding mechanisms and innovations that benefit from synergies between adaptation and mitigation in fisheries and aquaculture
  • Conduct scientific and other studies (e.g. economic) to identify options for carbon sequestration by aquatic ecosystems which do not harm these and other ecosystems
  • Consider appropriate regulatory measures to safeguard the aquatic environment and its resources against adverse impacts of mitigation strategies and measures

Climate change strategies

Our Government’s policy on the environment is to develop climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies to protect those most affected. The Government also intends to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources as a means of reducing our carbon footprint. Along with other measures to combat climate change and global warming, we can all be optimistic that strategies will be implemented to protect fisheries and other marine resources.

The World Food Day National Committee (WFDNC) is entrusted to pursue constructive action addressing food related issues in Trinidad and Tobago.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) global message for World Food Day (October 16, 2016 to October 15, 2017) is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too” and states that ‘one of the biggest issues related to climate change is food security. The world’s poorest – many of whom are farmers, fishers and pastoralists – are being hit hardest by higher temperatures and an increasing frequency in weather-related disasters. At the same time, the global population is growing steadily and is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. To meet such a heavy demand, agriculture and food systems will need to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and become more resilient, productive and sustainable. This is the only way that we can ensure the wellbeing of ecosystems and rural populations and reduce emissions. Growing food in a sustainable way means adopting practices that produce more with less in the same area of land and use natural resources wisely. It also means reducing food losses before the final product or retail stage through a number of initiatives including better harvesting, storage, packing, transport, infrastructure, market mechanisms, as well as institutional and legal frameworks.’

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