FRDC-DCCEE: management implications of climate change impacts on fisheries resources of northern Australia

Project Number:



James Cook University (JCU)

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:





Climate change is a major environmental threat and there is a national imperative to establish likely impacts on fisheries in Australia. Northern Australia is predicted to be affected by changes in rainfall patterns and resultant increases in river flows to the marine environment, increased intensity of cyclones, increased water temperatures, increases in ocean acidification, and altered current patterns (CSIRO 2007). These changes in the marine environment will directly impact on fisheries including modified phenology and physiology, altered ranges and distributions, composition and interactions within communities, and fisheries catch rates (Hobday et al 2008, Munday et al 2008, Halliday et al, 2008, Balston 2009). Critically, most fisheries in northern Australia are deemed to be not well prepared at all for future climate impacts (Hobday et al 2008). For fishery sectors in northern Australia to be able to respond positively and adapt to climate-induced changes on fish stocks there is a need to determine which stocks, and where, when and how they are likely to be affected. Current fisheries management in northern Australia is jurisdiction-based. There is a need for a co-operative approach to developing management policy that can deal with future climate change scenarios. Development of such policy requires consultation with all stakeholder groups. This addresses one of the NCCARP high priority research needs for commercial and recreational fishing, two of FRDC's Strategic Priority R&D Areas (Themes 3 & 4), and priorities for Qld and NT management agencies. There exists extensive northern Australia biophysical and fisheries data for regional assessment of likely climate change impacts. Data include temperature, salinity, pH, wind, rainfall, upwelling events and river flows. There is a critical need for the collation of existing data sets to determine and document the key environmental drivers for northern Australian fisheries; a key research priority for national, Qld and NT agencies.


1. Describe the projected climate-driven changes that are relevant to northern Australian marine fisheries.

2. Assess the potential impacts of climate change on key fisheries and species in northern Australia.

3. Assess current management to identify approaches that are adaptive to potential climate change scenarios

Final Report - 2010-565-DLD - Implications of climate change impacts on fisheries resources in northern Australia

Final Report
Date Published:March 2014
Principal Investigator: David Welch
Keywords: Climate change, fisheries, northern Australia, life history, life cycle, environmental drivers, vulnerability assessment, adaptation, habitats, stakeholders.
Provision of scenario-driven recommendations of adaptive management approaches that provide for the sustainability of northern Australia fisheries in a changing climate.
- The final project workshops worked with stakeholders to identify adaptation options based on likely future fishery scenarios. Scenarios were based on the reviews of species biology and ecology, as well as future localised climate projections, and described the likely response of key species to climate change. For example, the abundance of barramundi on the east coast is likely to decrease by 2030 due to reduced rainfall and increased water extraction, as well as habitat changes. Adaptation options across all species were grouped as: Alteration of fishing operations, Management-based options, Research and Development and Looking for Alternatives. These groupings generalise the types of adaptation that fishers and managers identified and species-specific options are also given in the report appendices. With these options stakeholders also identified the likely barriers and who is responsible for their implementation. Cost was identified as a key barrier to most options as well as political opposition. The options presented here represent an initial, but important, step towards northern Australian fisheries preparing for climate change.
Determination of the vulnerability of northern Australia's fisheries to climate change.
- A key output from the project was the development and application of vulnerability assessments of key fishery species from three key regions of northern Australia. The assessment framework developed is semi-quantitative and draws on the elements of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. The assessments are species-based and regionally targeted and he framework is a tool to assess the relative vulnerability of species to climate change, providing an objective and strategic basis for developing responses to projected changes. The framework is also transparent and provides the means for determining the appropriateness of responses. The framework can readily be adopted for similar assessments in other regions and, with modification, could also be adopted in other disciplines. The vulnerability assessments here focused on 2030, a medium-term outlook, and one considered to be more relevant to all stakeholders, although an assessment was also carried out based on the A1FI emissions scenario for 2070.
Greater understanding of the impacts of short and long term climate variability on northern Australia's key fisheries species, fisheries and regions of northern Australia, and the key environmental drivers. These include identification of priority species, fisheries and/or locations for targeted monitoring.
- The project has delivered as a major output, summary tables of the likely impacts of climate change on key northern Australian fishery species and habitats, also identifying the environmental variables of significance. This was done for three regional areas of northern Australia based on projected climate change for 2030. The key species likely to be impacted by changes predicted for 2070 (A1FI emissions scenario) were also identified. The vulnerability assessment process also prioritised species for action.Generally, inshore species were assessed to be more likely to be affected by future climate change. The east coast was identified as a critical region given that rainfall (riverflow) is projected to decrease and many species populations are known to be positively associated with riverflow. This is amplified by the likely increase in water extraction for land-based uses, particularly on the east coast. Across all regions in northern Australia the species identified as highest priority (high vulnerability and high fishery importance) were: golden snapper, king threadfin, sandfish, black teatfish, tiger prawn, banana prawn, barramundi and mangrove jack.
Improved capacity for fisheries management agencies and industry to assess current practices and policies to optimise positioning for future predicted scenarios.
- Collectively, the key outputs of this project provide an informed basis for management and industry to assess current fisheries management against likely future scenarios. Management as well as commercial and recreational fishing interests were key participants in the project and had direct input into key outcomes providing.

Implications of climate change impacts on fisheries resources of northern Australia Part 2: Species profiles

Final Report
Author(s):David J. Welch, Julie Robins, Thor Saunders, Tony Courtney, Alastair Harry, Emily Lawson, Bradley R. Moore, Richard Saunders, Natasha Szczecinski, Andrew Tobin, Clive Turnbull, David Vance and Ashley J. Williams
Date Published:March 2014

The species profiles herein are a selection of 23 of the some of the most important fishery species of northern Australia. Although there are many others that could have been included, the species were selected to be representative of the regions, fishery sectors and taxa, while also being identified as high priority species during consultations with stakeholders. As a companion report to Part 1: Vulnerability assessment and adaptation options, the information compiled here for each species provided the necessary baseline information for this project: (i) carry out further species sensitivity data analyses, (ii) conduct the species-based vulnerability assessments, and (iii) identify appropriate adaptation options and barriers. Each species profile covered the following aspects: fisheries, biology, ecology and life cycle, and environmental sensitivity and resilience in a climate change context. This content followed the template set by the similar project conducted in south-eastern Australia (Pecl et al. 2011) thereby ensuring consistency across projects.

Each profile involved comprehensive literature reviews so as to provide the most up-to-date, and therefore relevant, information to inform the major tasks of the project. Firstly, identifying the known sensitivity of each species to key environmental (climate) variables helped us to set up hypotheses for testing for the data analyses conducted for some species, determined the information gaps, and informed the development and scoring for the vulnerability assessments. Documenting the biology, ecology and life history also informed the development of the hypotheses as well as the vulnerability assessments. Information about the fisheries, including their management and operational characteristics, was important also in informing the vulnerability assessments, and particularly in identifying adaptation options for fisheries.