Small-scale Fisheries and Marine Ecosystem Services: Adaptation and Transformation to Secure Human Wellbeing (SGP-HW 017)


Project information

Jeremy Pittman, Assistant Professor, School of the Environment, University of Waterloo, 200 University Ave. W., Waterloo, ON Canada.
Contact: Phone: +1 519 888 4567 ext. 31544
(June 2019 –  2022). USD 192,179
Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Uruguay

Executive summary Results Outreach Investigators Students

Executive Summary

Oceans play a critical role in human wellbeing due to the multiple ecosystem services they provide (e.g., food, livelihoods). Yet the ocean is currently changing due to several anthropogenic drivers, including climate change. These changes will affect the marine ecosystem services upon which we depend, which brings into question the wellbeing of human communities throughout the globe. In maritime places where observed warming has been greater than the global average – referred to here as ‘hotspots’ – the ecosystem services, and human wellbeing derived from these services, are already under threat. Coastal communities, who draw a significant proportion of their livelihoods from small-scale fisheries, are particularly vulnerable to these changes due to their limited capacities and options for adaptation.

Augmenting these adaptive capacities requires multilevel efforts to: (1) ensure national policy and legislation is flexible enough to accommodate change, while supporting livelihood security; (2) align fisheries management decisions with the demands of changing contexts; and (3) develop fisheries practices that are climate-resilient, ecologically-appropriate, and socially-salient. By working with three small-scale fisheries across four countries (Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador) and two ocean warming hotspots, our project will help identify and implement adaptation pathways designed to improve the adaptive capacity of small-scale fisheries and coastal communities. Our research draws on long-established relationships among researchers, practitioners, policy-makers, and resource users in each of our study sites. Through these long-term engagements, we have developed extensive databases of key social-ecological drivers for each focal fishery, which we will augment, analyze, and synthesize throughout the course of our project following a participatory research design.

We will work across diverse disciplinary backgrounds and areas of expertise to: (1) merge and analyze unique, long-term social-ecological datasets to identify observed and expected change; (2) engage stakeholders in participatory exercises aimed to contextualize future scenarios; and (3) co-develop multilevel adaptation pathways to effectively maintain human wellbeing in the face of ecosystem service change.


Keywords: fisheries, yellow clam, climate change, small-scale fishery, adaptation

● Through a global-level analysis, investigators are developing a synthetic framework to assess small-scale fishery adaptive capacity, which could be broadly applied across case studies, but still adapted to match the diversity of local contexts.

● Researchers found evidence suggesting that climate change threatens fish populations in the case studies, the related fisheries, and marine and coastal ecosystems.

● The paucity of fisheries data prevents a more effective assessment of the impact of climate change on fisheries in the region and hampers the capacity of governments and communities to adapt to these changes.

● The researchers are leveraging available datasets and augmenting them with primary data collection to develop a more complete picture of climate change impacts and potential adaptations.


The work of the research team of this project, is one of the featured stories in the 2ºC: Beyond the Limit Series published by the Washington Post and winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.

The story, Dangerous new ocean hot zones are spreading and affecting local fisheries, published by the Washington Post on 11 September 2019, has increased awareness of the vulnerability of coastal communities as a result of warming ocean temperatures.

Coastal communities that depend on small-scale fisheries for their livelihoods are highly vulnerable to warming ocean temperatures due to the devastating decline of local fisheries. IAI researchers are investigating the impacts of ocean warming in the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Uruguay and Argentina, as highlighted in the story.

The Washington Post 12-part series focused on a dozen global hotspots around the world to communicate that climate warming is not a distant threat. They estimated that 10% of the earth has already warmed by more than 2º Celsius.


Interview to Omar Defeo. Lacalle Pou: un “oceanógrafo frustrado”, tiene el reto de “cambiar la historia” de la política pesquera y apoyar a la ciencia
Brecha, Uruguay, 2020

Sobre Hombros de Gigantes. Playas
Washington Post, USA, 2020

Entrevista a Omar Defeo. “La pesca no puede seguir siendo la convidada de piedra”.
Television, Uruguay, 2020

Sobre Hombros de Gigantes. Pesca
Televisión Nacional Uruguay, 2020

2°C: Beyond the limit (series). Dangerous new hot zones are spreading around the world
Washington Post, 2019

Los efectos de la zona caliente en la costa de Rocha
El Pais, Uruguay, 2019

Costa uruguaya está en zona especialmente afectada por calentamiento, dice Washington Post
El País, Uruguay, 2019

Costa de Uruguay en zona afectada por calentamiento, según The Washington Post.
Radio Carve, Uruguay, 2019

¿Qué puede hacer Uruguay para mitigar el efecto del calentamiento de sus costas? Interview with Omar Defeo
Radio Océano FM, Uruguay, 2019


Entrevista a Omar Defeo e Ignacio Gianelli
Canal Cuatro: Telenoche, 2019

La costa uruguaya: de las más afectadas por el calentamiento global


Omar Defeo, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de la República
Alberto Piola, Departamento Oceanografía, Servicio de Hidrografía Naval
Betina Lomovasky, Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras
Mauricio Castrejón, University of Waterloo
Osmar O. Möller Jr., Instituto Oceanográfico, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande