Fishers retrieving nets in the early morning, Lake Nabugabo.
Photo Credit: Elizabeth A. Nyboer

By Elizabeth Nyboer, Laban Musinguzi, Richard Ogutu-Ohwayo, Vianny Natugonza, Steve Cooke, Nathan Young, and Lauren Chapman.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

The inland fisheries of the Lake Victoria basin in East Africa supply more than three million people with their primary source of income and food security. This irreplaceable resource is unfortunately threatened by climate change as increasing water temperatures and changes in seasonal rhythms are altering fish distribution and abundance. Such changes in the resource base have negative effects on livelihoods of people who rely on fishing for food security and income. It is critical for fishing households to develop strategies to adapt to climate change-induced environmental stressors.

Our study focused on fishing communities in the Ugandan portion of the Lake Victoria basin where reliance on fishery resources is high and communities are vulnerable to climate change. We conducted a series of focus group discussions and interviews at five different fishing sites to understand ways that households in this region respond to climate change. We also asked whether the different adaptive strategies resulted in improvements in livelihood stability. For example, if a household decided to respond by exiting fishing and diversifying into crops, we asked whether this action improved the income and food security of that household. We also tested whether specific household characteristics, like gender or economic status, influenced how successfully that household was able to adapt.

The types of strategies used to respond to climate change varied among households. Many adapted within the fishery (42%), some diversified outside of fishing (19%), and others planned for future disturbances (16%) or used a variety of emergency response measures (i.e., coping strategies; 23%). We also found that many households use strategies that do not lead to long term stability in income and food security. Many complex reasons underlie this outcome. For example, many households continue in fishing even when a climatic shock (e.g., long term drought) leads to a less productive fishery. Although barriers like poverty play a role in the decision to remain fishing, other elements like having a strong identity connection to fishing as a profession and being accustomed to boom-bust cycles can mean that many fishers would rather stick out the tough times in hopes of better future catches. Another key finding was that marginalized groups like women, migrant fishers, and poorer community members had fewer opportunities for adaptive change and thus require targeted efforts to increase the number adaptation options.

Understanding the nuances underlying fishers’ decisions can help to develop adaptive strategies that will be successful in building resilience in communities faced with climate change. Such projects require communication and collaboration across disciplinary and sectoral boundaries, and involve sustained and regular engagement of decision makers, scientists, government, and community members alike. This work contributes to a growing base of community knowledge and experience to build adaptive capacity for inland fisheries and the communities around the world that depend on them.