As climate change continues to cause havoc with weather patterns around the planet, many species are on the move. Those species include a host of marine animals like fish. Warming water temperatures are causing fish to migrate to new areas of the seas at an accelerating pace. And the increased migration of fish is set to become an international bone of contention over customary fishing rights.
“Marine fishes do not have passports and are not aware of political boundaries; they will follow their future optimal habitat,” says Gabriel Reygondeau, a Canadian scientist who has participated in a new study on the effects of climate change on traditional fishing grounds around the planet. “Unfortunately, the potential change of distribution of highly-valuable species between two neighbouring countries will represent a challenge for fisheries management that will require new treaties to deal with transboundary fish stocks.”
In other words, several nations may find themselves engaging in a battle of wills over the changing nature of fish stocks and shifting fishing grounds, which may undermine local sea food industries.
“Fish fleeing warming waters will cross national boundaries and add new ‘shareholders’ to existing fisheries,” explains William Cheung, the study’s senior author. “Without a pre-agreed mechanism to accommodate these unexpected fish shareholders, we could witness more international disputes over the allocation of fisheries resources.”
For their study the Canadian team of scientists analyzed 892 fish stocks from around the world’s oceans using their own models. By doing so, they have shown that warming water temperatures are driving a host of marine species toward the poles. They posit that by 2100 at least 70 countries will see new fish stocks in their waters if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trajectory.
That may sound like good news for some countries. such as those nearer the poles. Yet what will be their gain will be the loss of other countries in tropical regions that may see their fish stocks diminish. The result may well be that countries will have to draw up new treaties over fishing rights. In some regions like East Asia tensions are already brewing over fishing rights and disputed boundaries. Meanwhile, in 2007 Iceland and the European Union ended up at being loggerheads over mackerel stocks.
In coming years and decades governments will be able to avoid, or at least alleviate, such disputes by coming up with “flexible solutions” over fishing permits and fishing quotas across international boundaries. “Examples of such flexible arrangements already exist, such as the agreement for U.S.-Canada Pacific salmon and Norway-Russia Atlantic herring,” Cheung observes. “Fisheries management organizations can draw from these experiences to proactively make existing international fisheries arrangements adaptable to changing stock distributions.”