What happens to traditional fishing rights when the traditional fish that are fished move somewhere else. Sea temperatures are warming and that is having a huge impact on the what and where of fishing.
The What and Where of Fishing and Lobster, Turtles and Whales
Last summer we took a family trip to Maine and the Canadian Maritime Provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia to take the pulse of the fishing industry that this area of North America depends so heavily on. What we found is that not only fish but other marine creatures from turtles to whales to lobster are on the move. As climate changes and ocean temperatures rise, fish and marine mammals move north into colder waters, usually because that is where the food that they depend on is moving. (photo – Robert Frerck, Blue ocean)
When we were in Maine, PEI and Nova Scotia we chatted with lobsterman and the story was good for some, but dismal for others, especially those lobstering further south. The lobster fishers on PEI were experiencing bumper harvests but also commented that the lobsters are molting earlier, meaning that the lobstering season is changing and the local fishermen are being forced to adapt.
We also reported on the unusually large number of western North Atlantic Right Whales that were killed last year by becoming entangled in fishing gear or being struck by ships in the busy St. Lawrence shipping lanes.
Right Whales are the world’s most endangered whale species now numbering about 400. Normally they migrate from Florida and Georgia up to the waters off Nova Scotia, but now are arriving earlier and traveling further north, putting them in the heavily traveled path of commercial shipping. The Canadian government has responded by slowing the speed of commercial shipping and limiting the snow crab fishing season. Attempts to more accurately track the whales may also help in reducing lethal conflicts.
Could these changes in the what and where of fishing lead to global conflict over fish. In a great article in EcoWatch this is exactly the scenario. According to a recent study in Science, warming waters are causing marine life to migrate into new territory at the rate of 70 kilometers a decade. With serious ramifications for national and international regulations, especially in Asia where tensions are already high over illegal fishing and disputed boundaries.
“Marine fishes do not have passports and are not aware of political boundaries; they will follow their future optimal habitat,” said the study’s co-author Gabriel Reygondeau. “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.”
Fish are such an important economic resource for so many countries that wars over fishing are not uncommon. A “salmon war” broke out in the 1990s when Pacific Salmon moved from the waters of British Columbia into US waters. Again in 2007 a “mackerel war” broke out between Iceland and the EU when the highly prized fish moved into Icelandic waters. The conflict eventually scuttled Iceland’s entry into the EU.
Countries are already planning for the inevitable conflicts. After centuries of stable fishing populations and geography, the only real solution is for the world to get a handle on curbing climate change and fix the problem instead of applying quick-fixes.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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