Diversification of fisheries and aquaculture products and systems

Climate impacts
Changes in sea conditions, Extreme temperatures and heatwaves
Marine and fisheries, Sectors specific
IPCC category
Social - Behavioural, Structural and physical: Technological options


Marine ecosystems are already experiencing the redistribution of species and habitats due to the climate change and these changes are likely to be magnified in the future. Water warming and changes in terms of the primary production are found to directly influence nekton composition in the Northern Adriatic Sea, driving the decrease of species with cold thermal affinity and increase of thermophilic non-indigenous ones, with possible ecological effects at the ecosystem level and implications on fisheries (Climefish project results). 

Diversification of fisheries and aquaculture is suggested in the EUSAIR strategy (Pillar 2) among actions to preserve these important sectors for Blue Growth in the Adriatic-Ionian region, with social, cultural and economic value. Diversification of fisheries and aquaculture means a substantial change in the production activity, responding to changes in the availability of fish stocks and/or changes in the environmental state of the marine system driven by climate and other challenges. Diversification strategies include a shift towards alternative species or – in the case of aquaculture – new genetic strains, as well as to management practices more suitable to the changed conditions. 

Diversification is a process carried out by individual local producers, or better by networks and associations of producers having stronger business capacities, and benefiting from cross-sectoral cooperation with other related businesses (e.g. market, tourism) and from the support of public authorities. Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGS) represent useful mechanisms to support the fisheries and aquaculture diversification. Several FLAGS along the Adriatic coast, in both Italy and Croatia, support diversification projects, especially promoting links with tourism, taking advantage of the area’s strong maritime cultural and environmental values. 

For fisheries, actions include adaptation of gears and vessels in response to shifts of fish stock distribution with the changing sea conditions. For aquaculture, diversification includes changes in cultured species and/or different genetic strains contributing to more climate resilient organisms, reducing the vulnerability of the sector to the climate change. Risk-based zoning and locating of aquaculture, including risks from climate variability and change, can support diversification whenever new areas for production are in the process of being explored, avoiding economic losses from choices that do not properly take into account all concerns and risks. 

Diversification requires preparing fishers to change, increasing their understanding and awareness about the climate change risks and opening new market opportunities for new products. In this context, diversification actions should be supported by measures aimed at raising consumer perception of new fishing products or products with a sustainability brand.

Moreover, developing economic activities complementary to fisheries and aquaculture is another example of diversification outside the sector, relieving the pressure on fish stocks and creating transition to new business opportunities (and complementary sources of income for operators) relying on less vulnerable resources. In this regard, the results from the Horizon 2020 funded the Muses project, which aimed at exploring the opportunities for Multi-Use in European Seas, indicating several examples for diversification of fisheries and aquaculture already in action in Europe and for the Northern Adriatic Sea, specifically. Examples include fishers engaging tourists in boat excursions, showcasing traditional fishing activities, and farmers hosting customers on vessels to visit aquaculture sites or performing other recreational activities. 

It is highly important that diversification actions do not increase the fishing effort and are coherent with the objectives set by the Common Fisheries Policy, aiming at sustainable fisheries as well as conservation of fish stocks and marine resources. Unsustainable practices, such as fishing beyond sustainability limits or in new locations without sustainability assurances or with no sustainable gears are examples of maladaptation responses to the challenges posed by climate and other changes, with long-term detrimental consequences on stocks and marine ecosystems.


Costs are expected to be highly variable, considering the different possibilities of diversification. Investment costs to change products and systems are reported as major constraints to adaptation, especially for small-scale enterprises. Funding schemes of the EU Common Fisheries Policies (EMFF) can support diversification projects that are compliant with its sustainability objectives.

Diversification of products and systems leads to a greater resilience of fisheries and the aquaculture economic sector, in face of the challenges posed by the climate change and other pressures. Diversification through the development of complementary activities, such as eco-tourism activities, provides a new source of income for operators that can compensate possible economic losses during unfavourable years or seasons. Whenever diversification is performed according to a sustainable approach, it can also help in relieving pressures from overfishing with related environmental benefits. Other benefits can be related to behavioural changes both in operators and in consumers, towards more sustainable fisheries and aquaculture products.

When diversification is complemented by other good practices (e.g. aiming at reducing fuel consumption and the use of fossil energy in general) and measures affecting market systems (e.g. favouring local products), it can contribute to the climate change mitigation goals as well.


Information on time frames associated with adaptation strategies and evaluations of success in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors is often missing. More research is needed to assess the time of adaptation for these sectors. Time also depends on the types of implemented actions and adopted approaches. It consistently varies from the planned adaptation (involving governance, legislative and policy change) to reactive adaptation, including autonomous upgrading of fishing and aquaculture systems in response to climatic variability. Diversification can require long time to change the attitude of fishers towards new opportunities. A significant amount of time, in the order of 10–15 years, may be required to introduce some new species or strains to aquaculture and develop the necessary technologies (FAO).


Climate Adapt Platform

Muses project

ClimeFish project

FAO, (2016). Planning for Aquaculture Diversification. The importance of climate change and other drivers. FAO, (2018). Impacts of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture. Synthesis of current knowledge, adaptation and mitigation options