Imagine a future where people and countries are fighting over fish. Communities, together made up of hundreds of millions of people, have lost sources of food and income because the climate crisis has forced fish populations to migrate away from traditional habitats to survive. Societal instability looms because the bounty that the oceans can provide is growing increasingly unstable.
That future is now.
Fish stocks are on the move. As climate change drives shifts in ocean and weather cycles, fish populations are shifting too. A recent study on climate-driven fish migration reports that 23 percent of fish stocks connected to countries’ territorial waters will move in the next eight years. By the end of the century, it will be near 50 percent.
This migration is worrying. Between World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union, a quarter of all interstate militarized disputes were fought over fisheries, and data from the last four decades show that instead of subsiding, disputes increased 20-fold. Already, there are indications that unsustainable fishing—including overfishing and bycatch—has replaced piracy as the leading maritime security threat of our time. In addition to conflict, as competition and scarcity increases, many countries and coastal communities whose fish populations are moving away will experience skyrocketing levels of hunger, joblessness, and societal stressors that result in mass migration and civil unrest.
We have the solutions
These are big problems, but we are far from all doom and gloom. A future where there is fish, prosperity, and peace shared among coastal communities and neighboring governments is not beyond us. Here’s why:
Science can predict fish migrations. WWF has the capability to work together with governments, businesses, environmental and human rights groups, and the peacebuilding community to take preventative action around the world to avert disaster and lawlessness and build resilient food supplies and sustainable livelihoods.