Global warm­ing is a global chal­lenge. It has the po­ten­tial to im­pact the world as a whole, in tan­dem with in­di­vid­ual re­gions. It will also im­pact spe­cific in­dus­try in spe­cific ways. The lo­cal fish­ing in­dus­try is es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to its im­pact, given the re­gion is al­ready warm, coastal and re­liant upon the ocean for on­go­ing trade, busi­ness, and, in­deed, ba­sic ex­is­tence.

The im­pact of a hur­ri­cane upon the fish­ing in­dus­try is recog­nised. Not only is there the risk of boats and in­fra­struc­ture be­ing dam­aged but the dam­age to life above wa­ter is mir­rored be­low it. Hur­ri­canes not only dis­lo­cate an ar­ray of ma­rine life but de­stroy much of the ocean’s nat­u­ral ecol­ogy. Painful as it is now to imag­ine af­ter-events of re­cent times, ul­ti­mately the dis­placed fish can re­turn and so, too, the food sources upon which they feed.

There is no such prospect with the dam­age cli­mate change can do. A rise in ocean tem­per­a­tures that makes water­ways too warm to be hab­it­able for a species means dis­placed ma­rine life will never re­turn, and never can the fish­ing in­dus­try that de­pends upon it. Iden­ti­fy­ing what can be done here first re­quires a re­cap of the es­sen­tial is­sues as they ex­ist.


Mea­sured from 1880 to 2012, the Earth’s tem­per­a­ture is held to have risen around 1.53 de­grees. To those read­ing that statis­tic for the first time, it may sound in­ci­den­tal but the sig­nif­i­cance of it is ap­par­ent once it’s recog­nised it takes only a one de­gree in­crease in the Earth’s tem­per­a­ture for sea lev­els to rise up to six feet.

It is true that es­ti­mates vary from one author­ity to an­other - and, in turn, so too may a few scep­tics sug­gest that 1.53 de­grees over 132 years isn’t so bad - but this no­tion is quickly brought un­done by the re­al­ity that 2016 was the hottest year on record. Put sim­ply, it may have taken over a cen­tury for tem­per­a­tures to rise over one de­gree, but hit­ting the mile­stone of two de­grees could come far sooner. But how is cli­mate change im­pact­ing Caribbean fish­ing here and now?


How­ever one may worry with fear over the im­pact of cli­mate change in the fu­ture, it’s a re­al­ity that im­mense dam­age has al­ready oc­curred to our re­gion’s water­ways and our fish­ing in­dus­try as a re­sult. A 2012 re­port by the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture found the re­gion’s corals had di­min­ished by more than half since 1970.

While the im­pact of this is dev­as­tat­ing, the link to its im­pact on fish­ing in the re­gion is not com­plex. With dam­aged co­ral reefs comes di­min­ished ma­rine life around it. This fac­tor is al­ready huge but even more so when com­pounded with the dra­matic changes cli­mate change brings to the ecol­ogy of ma­rine life via dis­place­ment of species, their greater ex­po­sure to preda­tors, and a host of other fac­tors.

In turn, the busi­ness model of many fish­eries can be im­pacted greatly by the loss of a par­tic­u­lar species. While a healthy Caribbean reef may play host to a va­ri­ety of species, a fish­ery op­er­at­ing out of Saint Lu­cia or Mar­tinique no longer able to fish a par­tic­u­lar species can find market de­mand and other busi­ness re­al­i­ties mean sourc­ing an­other fish for sale is not easy.


Be­yond the di­rect en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of global warm­ing to fish­ing is the an­cil­lary ef­fect of cli­mate change to the in­dus­try. Good work has been done in re­cent times by a num­ber of Caribbean na­tions to work against the il­le­gal fish­ing in­dus­try. The 2016 treaty signed by Bar­ba­dos, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Do­minica, Guyana, St. Kitts and Ne­vis, and Uruguay to com­bat il­le­gal fish­ing is a core ex­am­ple of this.

These ef­forts should be ob­served and ap­plauded. Yet it’s also easy to recog­nise how the des­per­a­tion of di­min­ished busi­ness could quickly lead a fish­ery in a na­tion like Haiti, Ja­maica or the Cay­man Is­lands to ac­cept char­ter of an il­le­gal fish­ing group. Des­per­ate times for a busi­ness can re­sult in des­per­ate mea­sures, and the growth of il­le­gal fish­ing re­mains a real risk in fu­ture.

More widely, di­min­ished sea traf­fic in hotspots - such as bleached co­ral reefs that were pre­vi­ous tourism des­ti­na­tions - can grow the risk of dump­ing and other il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity that pre­vi­ously would not have been at­tempted with a more pop­u­lated use of the area. This also ap­plies to the greater cost of build­ing new in­fra­struc­ture and main­tain­ing mar­itime se­cu­rity when pre­vi­ous nat­u­ral de­fences like co­ral reefs served to guard against il­le­gal sail­ing, smug­gling, and more.

Just as ‘pre­ven­tion is bet­ter than cure’ surely ap­plies to cli­mate change, so too is it also a guid­ing star in ad­dress­ing its broader ef­fects. Keep­ing fish­eries in busi­ness is vi­tal to those in the in­dus­try, cer­tainly, but also the broader com­mu­nity as it seeks to main­tain our nat­u­ral re­sources and com­bat the greater risk of crime and pol­lu­tion that would come with in­ac­tion. The im­pact of cli­mate change on re­gional fish­eries is clear; what about ac­tion to de­fend against it?


As a leader in tourism the Caribbean re­gion can be a leader in the green move­ment as a whole. It is known the re­gion faces unique strate­gic chal­lenges. This is con­fined not only to fish­eries but to cli­mate change all over. This notwith­stand­ing, the ob­vi­ous im­pact of its ef­fects al­ready has spurred ac­tion in the re­gion.

Ini­tia­tives like the foun­da­tion of the Mul­ti­lat­eral In­vest­ment Fund (MIF) and Caribbean Cli­mate In­no­va­tion Cen­tre (CCIC) have pro­vided a strong foun­da­tion in pro­mot­ing ideas and busi­nesses that de­velop green so­lu­tions. There has also been the suc­cess­ful pro­mo­tion of growth at a grass­roots level, as aid fund­ing has seen new start-ups grow across the re­gion.

Sim­i­larly, the de­vel­op­ment of pi­lot pro­grammes like the Caribbean Ocean As­sets Sus­tain­abil­ity Facility (COAST) as­pires to not only pro­vide in­surance to fish­eries in the event of ex­treme weather but also to grow co­op­er­a­tion and ac­tion sur­round­ing con­ser­va­tion in the re­gion. Each of these pro­grammes rep­re­sent ideas in ac­tion, and each of­fers the po­ten­tial to make solid in­roads in fu­ture.

An­other key ini­tia­tive to watch go­ing for­ward will be the out­come of the Cli­mate In­vest­ment Fund’s Pi­lot Pro­gramme for Cli­mate Re­silience (PPCR). The US$10 mil­lion study will de­liver key data to aid in fish­eries man­age­ment across the re­gion. Cli­mate change will al­ways be an is­sue in­formed by par­ti­san politics but con­tem­po­rary and per­sua­sive data will go a long way to gen­er­ate bi­par­ti­san con­sen­sus on ac­tion in fu­ture.

Along­side the afore­men­tioned, the need to pre­vent over­fish­ing also can’t go un­men­tioned. While warm­ing tem­per­a­tures have played a role in the de­cline of Caribbean co­ral, so too has over­fish­ing of the par­rot­fish, a species that feeds upon al­gae that latches onto co­ral and has­tens its de­cline. Ev­ery­one in­volved in the in­dus­try, from a solo oper­a­tor all the way up to govern­ment leaders, has a key role to play in pre­vent­ing over­fish­ing.


Be­yond the chal­lenges of gen­er­at­ing ac­tion on the govern­ment level long-term, what can­not be de­bated is that straight­for­ward‚ com­mon sense so­lu­tions will al­ways find an au­di­ence, and have the po­ten­tial to im­pact to­day. A Caribbean fish­ery that prac­tises en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly fish­ing‚ a tourism busi­ness that uses bi­cy­cles over buses, and a re­sort that uses so­lar pan­els to power its elec­tric­ity‚ can en­sure vis­i­tors leave not only with happy mem­o­ries and the prom­ise to visit again but also prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions to use back home.

Sure the ef­forts of these changes won’t all be seen overnight, but nor shall the im­pact of cli­mate change. Good work in the for­mer can yet see much progress made to stop the dam­age and danger of the lat­ter. It can also cre­ate strong mo­men­tum on the grass­roots level for greater ac­tion at the gov­ern­men­tal level.

Im­mense dam­age has al­ready oc­curred to our re­gion’s water­ways

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