A policy framework for climate resilience in fisheries and aquaculture in Thailand

30 May 2022

Faculty of Social Sciences

link : A policy framework for climate resilience in fisheries and aquaculture in Thailand

This report develops a policy framework for enhancing climate resilience in fisheries and aquaculture in Thailand. The foundations are provided by an overview of the sector, a review of what is known about climate impacts, risks and responses, and an evaluation of the climate content and sensitivity of key policies, programs, and laws. Thus, the study is based on analysis of secondary data, interviews with experts and officials, surveys done by the authors in a previous project, published peer-reviewed literature, as well as grey literature from reputable organizations. The emphasis is on evidence from Thailand; where this was not available, sources from other comparable regions in the world were used to fill gaps.

Farmed and wild fish are an important source of nutrition and income in Thailand. Production, measured as officially reported catches, from marine fisheries has been stagnant since a sharp decline in 2008. Production changes are complex to interpret, given changing contributions from catches outside the country’s exclusive economic zone by the Thai fleet. Catch per unit effort, according to trawler surveys in the Gulf of Thailand, declined from around 300 kg hr-1 in 1961 to 20 kg hr-1 in the early 90s and around which it has fluctuated since. Overfishing and habitat degradation are among the main reasons for these trends. Trends in inland fisheries are less well documented, but rivers and wetlands are impacted by draining, pollution, and water infrastructure. Aquaculture production has also stagnated after decades of growth, with competitiveness and disease being key factors, but also concerns with sustainability of fisheries used to make feeds, habitat degradation, and contributions to water pollution. In all systems, climate change is emerging as another significant stressor.

Climate-related risks to production or profitability of fish and shrimp farms, include abrupt changes in temperature, heat waves, cold spells, intense rainfall events, floods, and droughts. The relative importance of such risks varies with site geography, water management, and rearing system. Sea level rise, storms, ocean acidification, and changes in sea surface temperatures are important risks for marine capture fisheries. For freshwater fisheries, changes in flood regimes from interactions between water infrastructure operations, habitat lost, and climate change are growing in importance.
Climate variables important to capture fisheries and aquaculture at different locations have varied over the decades, sometimes showing distinct long-term trends. Temperatures in Southeast Asia have increased 0.14?C-0.20?C per decade. Average daily rainfall intensity across Thailand has increased by 0.24-0.73 mm day–1 per decade, whilst the number of rain days has decreased by 1.3-5.9 days per decade. Across Thailand, the number of warm days increased by 3.4 days per decade, and of warm nights by 3.5 days per decade. Mean annual temperatures across Southeast Asia, using regional models, are projected to increase by 3?C-5?C by 2100, relative to 1986-2005 period under RCP8.5. Projections of precipitation under possible future climates are more uncertain than for temperatures.
In this report, climate resilience is defined as the capacity of a fishery or aquaculture system to handle climate-related risks and impacts to sustain livelihoods and food provision. Climate-related risks to the productivity and profitability of aquaculture are actively managed by fish and shrimp farmers with attention to: quality and price of feed and seed (stock); adjustments to stocking size, densities, and timing; and water management at different levels. The opportunities to manage risks to capture fisheries appear to be more limited. Important measures include adjusting fishing times, location, and gear. Comparing fisheries and aquaculture, extreme events are of relatively greater concern to aquaculture, whereas slow-onsets and long-term shifts are greater concerns for fisheries.

Existing laws, regulations, and institutions already contain many of the elements needed for an effective policy response to climate change in capture fisheries and aquaculture in Thailand. The Climate Change Master Plan, for example, makes suggestions on zoning to protect nursery habitats, use of calendars to navigate seasonal risks, and adoption of innovations – practices and strategies that would contribute to climate resilience.

The vision of the proposed framework is fisheries and aquaculture in Thailand become more climate resilient through enhancing capacities to manage climate-related risks, recover from disturbances, adapt to changes, and innovate to transform while becoming more inclusive.

Capacities to manage climate-related risks, for example, could be enhanced by supporting the development of early warning and risk information systems (Strategy 2). Capacities to recover from impacts or disturbances, in the case of fisheries, might be enhanced by the establishment and protection of refugia and natural nursery habitats (Strategy 4). Capacities to adapt in response to changes in climate could be strengthened with monitoring (Strategy 7). Capacities to handle climate changes may depend on innovation when existing options for adaptation are insufficient (Strategy 9). Finally, inequalities in access to resources, and the benefits arising from use of those resources, are obstacles to climate resilient fisheries and aquaculture, and thus need to be addressed (Strategy 11).

While focused on Thailand, this report also provides some initial insights into conditions and needs in Laos. Three suggestions are made for next steps. First, existing studies in Laos should be reviewed for insights important for policy responses to climate change, starting with those about management of climate-related risks. Second, climate change working groups should be established to facilitate sharing of knowledge and good practices. Third, the policy framework proposed in this report could be used as a starting point for a policy development initiative for climate resilience in fisheries and aquaculture in Laos.

Enhancing resilience to climate is not the only policy objective important to the development of fisheries and aquaculture. Food security, employment, foreign exchange earnings from exports, international competitiveness, profitable returns on investment, sustainable livelihoods, and conservation are others.
There are three main recommendations for initial action by government stakeholders in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors in Thailand. First, to convene a climate resilience working group at the level of the Department of Fisheries. Second, to reduce knowledge gaps with investments in research. Third, use the policy framework developed in this report as a starting point in building climate resilience.