Adapting fishing policies for a changing climate and coastline

Practical and innovative approaches to policymaking in West Africa

We’ve looked at factors such as illegal fishing and overexploitation before, but looking specifically at climate-change impacts is quite new, and the techniques we are using are new. This project is all about policy influence. It does not aim to produce books for a library shelf. Cheikhe Guèye, project leader

Important fisheries in decline?

Coastal West Africa, from Mauritania to Guinea, benefits from a marine upwelling of nutrient-rich cold water that makes it one of the world’s most productive fishing zones. The fisheries sector is extremely important to both national and local economies – and to the food security of local people. But fish stocks are threatened by destructive fishing practices, ecosystem decline and intense competition. Climate change is yet another threat to the already uncertain future of this crucial resource.

Led by the Dakar-based organization, Environment and Development Action in the Third World (ENDA), this CCAA-supported project aims to integrate improved understanding of climate change into fisheries planning and policy. As project leader, Cheikh Guèye recalls, “in 1990… Djifère [was] a small strip of land off Senegal’s coast used as a fishing port. I remember well going out in the pirogues [small fishing boats] and seeing a fish caught that was almost as big as me. Today, Djifère has become a small island due to coastal erosion. Part of the land has been completely submerged.”

Involving resource users in policy dialogue

Climate change poses diverse risks to fisheries. These include higher sea levels, more intense and more frequent storms that threaten port and fishing infrastructure, a changing mix of fish species, and more acid waters that can hamper crustacean shell formation. To date, there has been a lack of policy coordination between countries in the region, and non-enforcement of laws against unsustainable fishery practices.

The ‘Adapting Fishing Policy to Climate Change in West Africa’ project (Adaptation des politiques de pêche aux changements climatiques en Afrique de l’Ouest, or APPECCAO) is working in six countries: Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal. Through action research, it is reinvigorating regional policy dialogue by including those whose livelihoods depend on the fisheries. Fishers, packers and processors, boat owners and outfitters are contributing to a new approach to sustainable management, linking decision-makers and resource users.

New work on climate change is improving coordination

This project builds on two existing regional structures: ENDA’s West African Fisheries Policy Network (Reseau sur les politiques de pêche en Afrique de l’Ouest, REPAO) and the Sub-regional Fisheries Commission for West Africa (le Commission sous-régionale des pêches, CSRP). Before this project began in 2008, neither of these bodies had focused on climate-change adaptation. Through REPAO, national research teams in Cape Verde, Guinea and Senegal are now studying the likely impacts of climate change and aim to identify adaptation strategies, drawing on both scientific and local knowledge. Research teams have presented their findings and recommendations to senior government ministers.

The project is briefing national fisheries directors in seven countries on the potential impacts of climate change. A new alliance for sustainable fisheries (Alliance pour une pêche durable) in Senegal, jointly created by the national maritime fisheries directorate and other institutions including REPAO, will review fisheries policy in the context of climate change.

Developing research into policy into action

Project leader, Guèye hopes to see research translate into concrete measures to protect fisheries against the still poorly understood impacts of climate change: “the national directors are critical to seeing national policies put into place, so they are for us a key stakeholder. I expect the CSRP will certainly deal with climate change in its next plan of action. This is where we hope to see the policy impact of this project most concretely.”

The new policy dialogue is providing vital analysis on how to address climate change at all levels, from global to local. Local policy discussions at nine sites in Cape Verde, Guinea and Senegal involve agencies representing those directly involved in fisheries activities, and most directly at risk from climate change. The results of these discussions, and of surveys of local knowledge, are shared at regional meetings for information exchange. At one meeting, participants asked researchers to investigate inland fishing and its vulnerability to increased salinity, and wanted to know more about aquaculture as an option to alleviate stress on wild resources.