A fisher glides past a stand of mangroves in a boat.
Mangrove forests act as protective shields against severe storms and a buffer against coastal erosion. | USAID/Philippines

Managing Fisheries in the Face of Climate Risk

By Christine Chumbler

A new fisheries project in the Philippines is getting praise for integrating climate resilience throughout its design. USAID climate risk management (CRM) specialists are touting it as one of the best examples of putting climate risk management into practice in the field.

The Philippines is a nation of over 7,100 islands and more than 100 million people. With that many islands, fisheries are very important, both to the country’s food supply and to its economy. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, per capita fish consumption in 2011 was more than 72 pounds. Fisheries employed more than 1 million people in 2010 and contributed 1.8 percent of the country’s GDP in 2012.

Located in the typhoon belt, the Philippines gets hit by around 20 tropical storms each year. In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the nation killing at least 6,300 people. With top sustained winds of 195 miles per hour, it was one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded. According to the Philippine government, 21 of the country’s 72 fishing provinces and more than 145,000 fishers were affected. In one community alone, more than 3,500 fishing boats were damaged or destroyed. The storm also collapsed coral reefs and damaged other fish habitat.

As the climate shifts, severe storms and other extreme weather events are becoming more common. To help the Philippine Government and the nation’s fishers better understand and plan for how this will affect them, USAID launched Fish Right, a five-year, $25 million cooperative agreement that will be implemented in partnership with University of Rhode Island.

The project’s goal is to improve not just the productivity but the resilience of targeted fisheries and fishing communities. It will do this by addressing challenges that hinder fisheries governance systems, such as lack of good information, to achieve more sustainable coastal and marine resource management. Healthier and better managed coastal and fishery resources will promote more sustainable and equitable economic development. And if all goes well, more intact coastal and marine ecosystems and more resilient communities will be better able to withstand natural disasters.

“Fish Right will coordinate with the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and local governments to put in place a system that promotes more resilient and ecosystems-based fisheries management. Ultimately, we aim to increase fish biomass by 10 percent in three key marine biodiversity areas,” explains Rebecca Guieb, USAID/Philippines governance and coastal marine management specialist.


A fisher carries baskets of his catch through waist-high water.
More than half of the Philippines’ 1.6 million fishers live below the poverty line. They are forced to fish for longer hours because of decreasing fish populations.

Done in consortium with universities in the Philippines, Fish Right will support studies to improve data collection and evaluation of how climate variability affects fishery yields and fishing practices. The data can be used to establish climate reports for fisheries to help the Bureau of Fisheries address potential under or over-supply of fish, or shifts in abundance of certain fish stocks.

Fish Right will also analyze the geographical distribution of habitats for top marine fish species and its changes in response to variations in Philippine seas’ physical parameters. Meanwhile, Fish Right will partner with local governments, universities and other stakeholders to establish marine protected area networks that will ensure redundant protection to address climate variability.

To ensure that climate risk resilience is woven throughout program implementation, Fish Right has a full-time climate resilience specialist who is based at the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute. Universities will provide technical guidance in applying a suite of interventions that will enhance resilience of communities and other stakeholders.

In developing the program design, USAID/Philippines relied on a number of tools and information sources, including a USAID climate risk screening and management tool and specialized resources to understand the resiliency of fisheries like VA-TURF. Nonetheless, Guieb says that during the CRM assessment, getting specific climate data on the three marine biodiversity areas was difficult. “Our challenge was collecting climate information that is specific to a geographical location and available in a scale relevant to fisheries management planning,” she says. At the completion of the program, however, there should be an abundance of data for the estimated 2.5 million hectares of coastal and marine ecosystems that should lead to better management.

Todd Johnson, forestry advisor and program specialist in the Asia Bureau’s Office of Technical Services, recommends that other missions look to Fish Right as an example of using CRM in a project’s design process. “This is probably going to be one of the best examples to show how the integration is being turned into practice on the ground,” he says. “Building a resilience objective into the project’s design, targeting populations that are highly vulnerable to climate and other stresses, and using tools like ecosystem-based adaptation are exactly the kinds of approaches that make way for climate risk management to achieve results.

Strategic Objective
Ecosystem-based Adaptation, Biodiversity, Climate Risk Management, Coastal, Resilience, Rural

Christine Chumbler

Christine Chumbler is a communications professional with more than 20 years experience in writing, editing, and publications design. She has expertise in every stage of publication production, from concept and writing to editing, design, and printing. In the mid-1990s, she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi. This experience led to a career using her writing and editorial skills with international development and foreign policy organizations, many of which worked to directly support USAID’s efforts. She has worked in a freelance capacity full-time since May 2016. Chumbler has a Master’s in journalism from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor’s in environmental studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

More on the Blog

After many years of partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) national laboratories on various energy sector studies and programs, the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID's) mission in India realized an opportunity to coalesce these initiatives into an interlaboratory consortium.
The U.S. Government’s Feed the Future program is making climate change a central objective of their strategy. Global food security is under stress from increasingly intense and frequent heat waves, droughts, heavy rains, and major storms, according to the new report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which issues a dire warning of the risks posed with every incremental increase in global warming. Using Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA), Feed the Future helps farmers adapt to climate variations, mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and build resilience to climate shocks.
To address these challenges, USAID partnered with the Sustainable Ocean Fund (SOF), to make pioneering impact investments into marine and coastal projects and enterprises. The $132 million Fund invests in projects across Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia and the Pacific that aim to build resilience in coastal ecosystems and create sustainable economic growth and livelihoods in the blue economy.