Climate change is already impacting Australia’s marine ecosystems and fisheries, and these impacts will increase in coming decades. Understanding what climate change means for fisheries production and management in Australia is crucial for maintaining healthy marine ecosystems and sustainable fisheries into the future.
Climate change and its impact on Australia’s oceans
Climate change is impacting our oceans in complex ways. Australian waters are getting warmer and more acidic, sea-levels are rising, major ocean currents are changing, and extreme weather events are becoming more severe.
Fisheries and climate change
Climate change is affecting Australia’s marine life at all levels, from individual species to entire ecosystems. However not all species are affected in the same way by climate change—the impacts vary by location, habitat, and species.
We have been working with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) to improve our understanding of climate impacts on Commonwealth fisheries. The ‘Guidance on Adaptation of Commonwealth Fisheries management to climate change’ project rated the sensitivity of over 100 species occurring in Commonwealth fisheries to climate change and modelled the changes likely to occur in these species’ stocks by 2050. The results reveal that:
- all Commonwealth fisheries contain valuable species that are sensitive to climate change
- climate change is likely to influence the abundance of many important species, and
- all fisheries are likely to be more variable into the future.
Southeast Australian waters are a ‘hotspot’ for climate-driven ecosystem changes and a number of species are already being Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery. Modelling predicts that some stocks in this fishery may decline by 20 per cent or more by 2040, due to climate impacts. The sub-Antarctic toothfish stock is also likely to decline, while the Northern Prawn Fishery may experience some decreases and greater variability across most target species. Small pelagic species and squid are not predicted to decrease in the short term, however greater variability can be expected. The infographic below summarises some of the different impacts expected in Commonwealth fisheries by 2040, based on CSIRO’s sensitivity analyses and ecosystem modelling.
Climate factsheets for Australia’s fisheries
The FRDC has region-specific projections of climate impacts on Australian marine ecosystems and the fisheries they support.
AFMA Climate Adaptation Program
We recognise the risks that climate change pose to Australia’s Commonwealth fisheries and we are taking action to ensure our management activities respond to these risks.
Our Climate Adaptation Program aims to ensure information on climate impacts is being incorporated into fisheries management across all AFMA fisheries, and that operational and management adaptation options are being developed and implemented. In 2021, AFMA and the CSIRO teamed up to develop the Adaptation of fisheries management to climate change handbook. This handbook is designed to help fisheries managers and operators identify effective responses to climate change by working through an evidence-based process. We are using this Handbook to develop and implement operational and management adaptation options for our fisheries, in close consultation with the fishing industry and other fishery stakeholders.
We are already building climate considerations into our decision-making processes, including our commission meetings and our management advisory committees and resource assessment groups. Other items being progressed through the Climate Adaptation Program include climate and ecosystem status reports and updates and collecting climate research relevant to our fisheries. Throughout 2024, AFMA will be trialing a draft Climate Risk Framework recently developed by AFMA, which seeks to explicitly incorporate climate risks into the decision-making process for TAC and TAEs.