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adaptive management, climate change, ecosystem approach to fisheries, integrated management, law of the sea, ocean acidity, regional fisheries management organizations or arrangements


The ecosystem approach to fisheries management is a conceptual and practical framework consistent with, and supportive of, climate change adaptation at the national and regional level. Implementing an ecosystem approach can contribute to climate change adaptation by improving ecosystem resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, by providing planning strategies and tools to monitor and assess the impacts of climate change on fisheries, and by relying on precautionary, flexible, and adaptive approaches that account for the uncertainties, surprises, unpredictability, and dynamism of ecosystems in a changing climate.

In this article, I provide an overview of some key considerations framing the mandate and capacity of regional fisheries management organizations and arrangements to implement ecosystem approaches in the context of climate change. The article first addresses the extent to which international law of the sea, and in particular the 1995 United Nations Fish Stock Agreement, endorses and implements an ecosystem approach to fisheries for the management of straddling and highly migratory stocks. It then addresses the barriers to more effective implementation of an integrated and adaptive ecosystem approach to fisheries in transboundary settings, including the decentralized and consensus-based nature of international law, stationary visions of ecosystems, and principles of certainty and stability. This analysis is then expanded to focus on specific challenges of adapting to climate-induced changes to transboundary stocks distribution and abundance. I address preparing and planning for climate change, responsive decision-making procedures, regulation of new fisheries, jurisdictional challenges, enhancing marine resilience, and revisiting allocation agreements, highlighting legal provisions and policy developments that may support or enhance the adaptive capacity of transboundary fisheries arrangements. I conclude that, despite some supportive legal provisions and practices, structural, legal, and political barriers severely hinder the pace and the scope of required governance and management responses to climate-induced changes to transboundary stocks.