FUTURE FISH WARS: CHASING OCEAN ECOSYSTEM WEALTH
Principal Investigator: James R. Watson, Oregon State University
Co-Investigators: Sarah Glaser, WWF; Ethan Addicott, University of Exeter, Steven Johnson, Cornell University; Cullen Hendrix, Peterson Institute for International Economics
Years of Award: 2023 - 2026
Managing Service Agency: Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Will climate change give rise to “fish wars”, militarized disputes between countries over marine fisheries, as fishing fleets chase ocean ecosystem wealth? We propose two climate change outcomes that could drive future fisheries conflicts. Value asymmetry will arise as fish stocks move from one location to another, changing the access that nations/actors have. Value compression is when the overall spatial area where a stock exists diminishes with climate change, resulting in an increasing density of competing nations and a per capita loss in value. Currently, we lack economic theory for measuring the value of natural assets like fisheries, targeted by multiple actors, and we do not yet know the changes in value asymmetry and compression that might occur in the future. Furthermore, we lack a theoretical framework to explore how climate change may drive instances of fisheries conflicts, through changes in value asymmetry and compression.
What we’re going to do: New economic theory and quantitative approaches are needed to measure the economic value of fisheries in the context of climate change and growing geopolitical ocean conflict. Advances to economic theory have generalized natural capital theory to better capture wealth-based ecosystem services. This Natural Capital Asset Pricing (NCAP) framework has been adopted as the central method by which the US government will perform a full accounting of its natural assets. However, the framework is incomplete. Here, new NCAP theory will be developed to include the impact of multiple actors on the value of natural assets such as fisheries, and to estimate value asymmetry and compression under climate change, which the existing theory lacks. In complement, new fisheries conflict theory will be developed to account for value asymmetry and compression. We will use existing fisheries economic data and develop new fisheries conflict data to test the two theories in three case-studies: the Artic, Western Pacific and the South China Sea.
The goal of this project is to address each of these needs in the context of three maritime regions of particular concern to U.S. national security, and that are anticipated to experience contrasting impacts of climate change. In the Western Pacific, fleets from multiple nations often dispute access over migratory species such as tuna. Climate change is anticipated to impact the migratory course of tuna, and nations competing for this stock are likely to dispute access. The Arctic is an emerging new ocean with numerous vessels from competing nations potentially targeting the area for access to new fisheries, as climate change shifts the spatial distribution of marine species to higher latitudes in the long run. In addition, we will examine the potential impacts of climate change on fisheries conflicts in the South China Sea, which is marked by a confluence of rising economic and military powers and competing territorial claims between China and its neighbors (the Philippines and Taiwan, among others). For all regions, the DOD is aware of the lack of understanding of the use of fishing fleets as extensions of national interests, as well as the direct, primary, and secondary impacts of climate change on the maritime domain and the risk of exacerbating tensions through (fisheries) value asymmetry and compression.