Good Fences for Mitigating Global Fisheries Conflicts
Robert Frost observed that sturdy fences make good neighbors. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” Frost wrote, and that applies especially at sea. Don Leal’s 2002 booklet “Fencing the Fisheries (pdf),” makes the case for developing new fisheries fences to replace failing government regulations. Leal discusses property rights arrangements like ITQs (Individual Transferable Quotas), private harvesting agreements, and territorial rights.
Finding fluid but sturdy fisheries fences matters for more than consumers eager for plentiful fillets. A lack of sturdy fences across Europe encouraged centuries of tribal then national battles, before finally launching Europe into two world wars. Every country’s king and landed aristocracy wished for more land for increased agricultural production and tax revenue. Fisheries also provide protein and tax revenues for competing states.
No small number of European conflicts have been sparked by disputes at sea. Iceland and the UK have locked horns in multiple conflicts over fisheries. But that’s all ancient history, right? Not really. Try the 1950s and 1970s, and warnings of a new “cod war” in 2013. Here is outline from a TED Case Study on “The Cod War”:
In November, 1975, the third Cod War between Great Britain and Iceland began. This dispute centered on Iceland’s decision to extend its zone of control over fishing from 50 miles beyond its shores to 200 miles. Great Britain did not recognize Iceland’s authority in this matter and so continued fishing inside the disputed area. Iceland deployed 8 ships, six Coast Guard vessels and two Polish-built stern trawlers converted into Coast Guard ships to enforce her control over fishing rights. In response, Great Britain deployed a total of twenty-two frigates (although no more than six to nine frigates at one time), seven supply ships, nine tug-boats and three auxiliary ships to protect its 40 fishing trawlers. While few shots were fired during the seven-month conflict, several ships were rammed on both sides, causing damage to the vessels and a few injuries to the crews. (TED source.)
This second UK/Iceland Cod War followed an earlier dispute over shifting fisheries fences:
The First Cod War lasted from 1 September until 12 November 1958. It began as soon as a new Icelandic law that expanded the Icelandic fishery zone from 4 nautical miles (nmi) to 12 nmi (from 7.4 to 22.2 km), came into force at midnight of 1 September. (Wikipedia source)
Holy Mackerel! UK and Iceland recently on the edge of war, twice? Over fish? Property rights with secure fences matter. And a third conflict may be on the way. UK and Icelandic fishing fleets are in conflict again, this time over mackerel, with Scots fishermen angry at Iceland increasing its take of mackerel by 145,000 tons:
The UK is the largest mackerel quota holder in the EU, with a share in 2012 of 188,751 tons against an EU total of 349,230 tons.
Iceland increased its mackerel catch from 363 tons in 2005 to a quota of 145,000 tons last year after the numbers in its waters surged.
It attributes the rise in mackerel to warmer waters due to climate change. But the EU and Norway claim the improved stocks are the result of good, sustainable fishing practices. (Source.)
The UK and Iceland will likely settle this fishing dispute without violence or lives lost. That’s not so much the case with other international fisheries disputes. China and Japan could be pulled into war over disputed islands and area fisheries. The Economist reports on the “five tiny, uninhabited Senkaku or Diaoyu islands.”
Off the east and west coasts of Africa, international trawling fleets are sweeping the seas of fish that for centuries has provided livelihoods for coastal African fishermen. The Atlantic‘s Quartz blog ran a July 16 story on EU efforts to block imports of fish caught by South Korean ships in west African waters. Also discussing the disputed fisheries is this EJF report “Keeping Illegal Fish Out of Europe.”
The Quartz post claims:
By last count, around €1.1 billion in illegal seafood is sold in EU markets each year, which is roughly 16% of the region’s total imports. That hurts law-abiding EU fishermen by lowering prices, exhausting supply and generally making the business harder for them. For instance, illegal fishing costs EU countries some 27,800 jobs, around 13% of total industry employment.
These detailed claims of imports “costing” local income and jobs are usually exaggerated and misleading. If not for allegedly illegal South Korean fishing fleets, 27,800 European fishermen would be, what, off the coast of Africa fishing legally? Or pulling hundreds of thousands more fish out of European waters? And if imported fish lower prices, the “hurt” experienced by “law-abiding European fishermen” is generally balanced or exceeded by gains to fishmongers selling more fish at lower prices and to consumers who enjoy more lower-cost fish. (Maybe ranchers are hurt as lower prices lure beef-eaters to tasty fish dinners. And maybe people benefit as increased fish consumption lowers heart attacks. But maybe fewer heart attacks cost doctor and hospital jobs with beef-stricken customers.)
In Africa, however, the consequences of illegal and disputed offshore fishing boundaries is more severe, according to this 2012 Reuters article, “Illegal fishing plunders and strains West Africa“:
West Africa, recognized as one of the world’s richest fisheries grounds teeming with snapper, grouper, sardines, mackerel and shrimp, loses up to $1.5 billion worth of fish each year to vessels fishing in protected zones or without proper equipment or licenses.
Widespread corruption and a continuing lack of resources for enforcement mean huge foreign trawlers often venture into areas near the coast that are reserved exclusively for artisanal fishermen, allowing them to drag off tons of catch and putting at risk the livelihoods of millions of local people.
Experts say the annual plunder risks deepening instability in West Africa by driving communities that live off the sea toward crime, in the same way illegal fishing in Somalia in the 1990s encouraged locals there to turn to piracy, now a criminal enterprise that costs the world billions of dollars each year.
“Illegal fishing in West Africa is essentially out of control,” said David Doulman, senior fisheries planning officer at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The acts of piracy, particularly in and around the Gulf of Guinea, have spread and become more violent, U.N. officials say, threatening shipping activity from a growing source of oil, metals and agricultural commodities for Western markets. (Source.)
So, no easy solutions nor easily enforced fences. But for policy debaters researching and debating marine natural resources, and for Lincoln-Douglas students researching moral obligations to mitigate international conflicts, Don Leal’s “Primer on Ending the Race for Fish” is a good place to start.