Climate Change Could Ignite 'Fish Wars,' But It Doesn't Have To
By Amy Mcdermott
Wars are coming. They will begin with fish. Or so it would seem, as swirling schools of little bass and other seafood species dart across political lines this century.
Fish will cross unprecedented political boundaries by 2100 because of climate change, according to a recent study in the journal Science. Seventy or more countries will share new fisheries in the next 80 years, the study found, as fish relocate in response to ocean warming. Schools that once swam off a single nation will straddle two, sprawling across political borders they didn't cross before.
Countries will learn to share quickly or fight.
"When fish move across political boundaries, we're not good at sharing initially, or even for decades," said Malin Pinsky, an ecologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey and Oceana science advisor, who led the recent study. "That causes conflict to erupt."
Fights over fisheries are nothing new. French scallop fishermen lobbed rocks and smoke bombs at British boats off the Coast of Normandy last month: the latest in their 15-year battle over scallops (with tensions dating back at least 200 years). Iceland, Norway and the European Union have such bad blood over mackerel that Iceland withdrew its bid to join the EU in 2015. The U.S. and Canada are forever beefing over cod. But the speed and scale of change this century is unprecedented, experts say, and could have resounding political and environmental aftershocks.
"These problems might start in fisheries, but they often spill out beyond fisheries as well," Pinsky said. Bickering about fish has been a top cause of armed conflict since World War II. Consider the headline-making row between French and British fishermen last month, whose anger boiled down to disagreement about who can fish where. It's a spark that can ignite militarization when maritime borders are poorly defined, and countries are competing for a limited resource, according to one analysis.
If those countries get grabby, they can overexploit the fishery. Imagine two people facing a delicious piece of cake, Pinsky said, each suspicious that the other won't share. Both will lunge and "eat as much as they can, quickly," he explained. "In some ways, that's what's happening with fish."
Future feuds seem likely, but fish wars aren't guaranteed. Looking across countries that have shared well in the past, and countries that haven't, patterns of good behavior do emerge. Trust, cooperation and smart planning point the way to a less conflicted future.
Build Trust Early
Sharing seems like standard good behavior. Indeed, people—and governments—can be great sharers, with a little time to warm up to the idea.
Consider the Pacific island nations of Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and the Federated States of Micronesia: eight tiny countries that cooperatively manage the largest tuna fishery in the world. "They've built trust amongst each other over 30 years," said Kate Barclay, a marine social scientist at Australia's University of Technology Sydney.
Trust pays dividends in a complex cap-and-trade scheme for the region's skipjack tuna. It works like this: Every year, all eight countries agree how many days, total, commercial skipjack fishing will be allowed in all their waters. That's the whole pie, of which each country gets a slice—an allocation of days, which they can sell to foreign vessels for single-day fishing access, typically at a cost of $10,000 to $14,000 each, said lawyer Transform Aqorau, who pioneered the management system.
Trust comes into play because skipjack tuna don't hang out around every island every year, meaning some countries will sell out of fishing days, while others won't. In this system, the islands that sell out of days first just buy unused days from their neighbors. So even though the fish are unevenly spread in the water, everyone profits.
"There's been a great appreciation for a long time, by these small island nations, that they need to work together to achieve their mutual ends," said fisheries scientist Johann Bell of the University of Wollongong, Australia, and of Conservation International. Licensing fees paid by foreign fleets can account for as much as 80 percent of government revenue, he explained, "so they've got a huge stake in this."
And because there's a cap on fishing days available—the whole pie for all the islands—skipjack aren't overfished. Of course, there is some quibbling between countries over their allocation of days, Aqorau said, but overall, it's a successful system.
More countries will confront the question of sharing this century. The Pacific Islands are managing well, because they built trust early. At the broadest level, Rutgers' Pinsky said, avoiding fish wars "is about building trust before there's a crisis."
Don't Benefit at a Neighbor's Expense
Knowing that skipjack migrate, "the Pacific Islands could have said OK, well it's the luck of the draw, boys," Bell said. "If it's in your country you make a lot of money that year. If not, you don't."
Instead, small neighboring nations worked together to their mutual gain.
Thousands of miles north, in the considerably colder waters of the Barents Sea, Russia and Norway cooperatively manage another migratory fish: cod. While cod may be the poster child of overfishing in North America, it's thriving across the Atlantic.
Barents management worked where North America's failed, because Russia and Norway follow science-based catch limits set by a joint fisheries commission, wrote biologist John Waldman of Queens College New York, in Yale 360. The United States and Canada, on the other hand, managed cod independently in most places. The two countries just lunged for it.
Today in the Barents Sea, whether cod fishermen are Russian or Norwegian, they're free to fish off either country. When cod migrate, fishermen can follow. Neighbors don't shut each other out to get ahead.
Common decency may seem motivation enough, but altruism isn't necessarily a good foundation for policy, points out sustainability scientist Jessica Spijkers, a co-author of the recent Science study and doctoral student with the Stockholm Resilience Center and James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. Selfless ideals don't hold up well, she said, when a country's people are desperate, or in crisis.
For Norway, Russia and the Pacific Islands, playing nice benefits their neighbors. But more importantly, cooperation benefits themselves, more than going it alone. Lofty ideals might bring some countries to the table, but self-interest keeps them there. It's when neighbors feel stepped on that sharing breaks down.
Think Like a Fish: Without Borders
There are no walls in the ocean. Fish swim freely. Managing them as though they adhere to political lines sometimes doesn't work.
North American cod were overfished, for example, in part because Canada and the United States generally managed their fish separately on either side of the border. Overfishing is easy when one country has total control, Waldman said. Whereas, when two countries share responsibility, one side always keeps an eye on the other. In the Barents Sea, by contrast, cod are managed as one regional population. The same is true for skipjack in the Pacific.
Managing wild fish like, well, wild fish, makes a lot of sense, said Stockholm's Spijkers, but expanding management to international, regional scales is also challenging. One way to do it, she said, would be to create one international fishing fleet, that targets all the commercial species in a region. Then divide up that catch by country.
"Fish are so regional, I would say the fleet should be as well," Spijkers said. "That would be just brilliant."
Other resources, like rivers and forests also span borders, and in general, countries are better at sharing those than they are at sharing fish, Spijkers said. Part of the reason fisheries still cause such conflict is because the oceans are huge, hard to study and until recently, fish were considered an infinite resource. That Wild West mentality is finally changing, she said, and none too soon, as fish relocate this century.
"Shifts will happen. It's a reality, at least according to the models," Spijkers said. "It's time to start thinking about what we can really do, before these things erupt and become gridlock."
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By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
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If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
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“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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