Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

Where Countries May Go to War for Fish

I met my interview guest Johan Bergenas somewhat randomly. I was at a conference. It was coffee break time. I was desperately looking for somewhere to place a cup of coffee that was quickly burning my hands. I found a table that was partially occupied by Johan.

We soon struck up a conversation and I knew immediately his research would be of keen interest to my Global Dispatches audience.

Johan Bergenas is Senior Vice President for Oceans at the World Wildlife Fund. Late last year, the World Wildlife Fund launched a platform called Oceans Futures to collect data on climate change and fisheries models to provide early warning of potential hostposts where competition over fish might cause conflict. It turns out, there has been a surge in conflict over fish over the last forty years, and this model seeks to help policy makers understand where such conflict might erupt next.

This is one of those topics that flies (swims?) under radar but ought to be taken far more seriously by policy makers for all the reasons we discuss. The full episode is freely available here. The full transcript available for paying subscribers.

Excerpt edited for clarity.

Mark Leon Goldberg Your Oceans Futures project analyzes the impact of climate change and fish migration and the potential for conflict.  You know, when you and I met in Halifax a few weeks ago, we ate great lobster. Presumably, the United States and Canada won’t go to war over the fact that, say, Maine lobsters might migrate to Nova Scotia — but that might not be the same in other parts of the world?

Johan Berganas  Whether a country or a community will escalate this to violence will obviously depend on the level of desperation. But you’re right, it’s unlikely in the near future that the United States would go to war with Canada over lobster. But here’s the deal: in eight years, 1 in 4 fish will go from one exclusive economic zone to another. This commodity, especially in the global South, is a commodity that people depend on for having a functioning economy, especially in coastal communities.

Think of oil or gas: In the 20th century, if oil and gas fields grew legs and started to move from Texas to Mexico, from Saudi Arabia to the UAE, from Turkey to Greece — pick your migration– that would be something that countries likely would be willing to go to war over. And so this is one of these topics that we are not paying attention to enough. Over the next five, ten, 15 years there will be fish winners and fish losers. That means there’s going to be food winners and food losers. And when it comes to the elemental stuff like that, people are going to do whatever they can to lay claim and access this important part of their country’s or their community’s future.

Also discussed:

  • Where WWF’s model predicts heightened risk of international conflict over fish
  • The various species of fish over which competition might spark conflict
  • Why the Arctic is a unique area of concern
  • A history of fighting over fish

Full transcript immediately available for newsletter subscribers.