Learn more about our impactLearn more about our impact
WWF works to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and wildlife, collaborating with partners from local to global levels in nearly 100 countries.
As our planet continues to rapidly warm because of human activity, it's all but certain that conflict over precious natural resources will rise—and the world's fisheries are no exception. Already we've seen international fisheries conflict increase an astonishing 20-fold over the past four decades. And 23% of all fish stocks will move in the next eight years, resulting in new fish-rich and fish-poor areas. This will significantly impact coastal communities and change geopolitical relationships among and between countries.
Fortunately, we have an opportunity to predict and prevent future clashes over ocean resources and their fallout. WWF announced the launch of our Oceans Futures platform, a first-of-its-kind initiative that uses global climate and fisheries models to highlight 20 regions of the world that will likely see greater conflict, food insecurity, or geopolitical tensions over ocean resources by 2030. Designed to identify the inevitable challenges fisheries will face, this early warning tool enables the international community to take bold, collaborative action on conservation and conflict prevention for a more peaceful future for people and nature.
"Oceans Futures connects the dots between protecting the health of the ocean and greater peace and food security for billions of people who rely on fisheries around the world," said Sarah Glaser, senior director of Oceans Futures. "Our goal is to promote solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises that will prevent conflict before it happens."
The platform's initial rollout combines projections for how fish stocks will shift over time due to climate change, and how those movements will increase the risk of competition and conflict over fisheries. Hotspots were identified by combining data projecting fisheries movement by 2030 with socio-economic and security variables—including nutrition profiles, economic levels, the presence of foreign fishing vessels, and contested maritime borders—that help assess a country's risk to fisheries conflict.
By early 2025, Oceans Futures will expand the available body of data and use machine-learning models to understand what causes low-level conflicts to escalate and, most importantly, what solutions can prevent that escalation from continuing.
Regions expected to see a notable uptick in conflict include the waters surrounding the Arctic Ocean, the Eastern Tropical Pacific, and the Horn of Africa. Explore a few case studies spotlighted in the platform to better understand existing and upcoming challenges faced by communities and governments that rely on fisheries for their livelihoods and economies.
Ecuador, recognized for its ocean conservation efforts, boasts the largest industrial fishing fleet in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. But recently, conflict at sea has increased. Artisanal fishers regularly protest new conservation regulations in the face of falling profits, and massive foreign fleets—predominantly from China—are prevalent in the waters west of the wildlife-rich Galápagos Islands. These foreign fleets cause immense environmental damage and create problems for the domestic fishery. On the mainland, the illicit drug trade is increasingly intersecting with the fishing sector. And as in so many other places, the climate crisis is wreaking havoc on natural resources and livelihoods. Key Ecuadorian fisheries, such as tuna and giant squid, are shifting southward out of the nation's waters as ocean temperatures rise. The government is responding by partnering with foreign militaries, non-governmental organizations, and regional fisheries management organizations to strengthen enforcement capacity and transparency. This commitment to ocean health, based on robust data collection, creates a solid foundation for navigating the climate crisis and changes to fisheries in the decades to come.
The Arctic—a region covering parts of eight countries—is warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the world as the climate crisis grows ever more dire. Melting sea ice is exposing previously inaccessible resources and fish stocks are moving to once unexploited waters. These new realities increase the likelihood of nations encroaching on pristine ocean in search of resources such as oil and gas deposits, minerals, and untapped shipping lanes. Overlapping territorial claims and under-regulated high seas zones only compound ecological challenges. Careful and effective management of the Arctic requires open communication and cooperation among all governments staking a claim to the region—a tall order with major implications for Indigenous populations that are disproportionately susceptible to the impacts of the environmental change and rely on now-shifting ocean resources.
The Horn of Africa, located in the continent's northeast region, has some of the most productive fishing grounds in the world. Fishing fleets travel from across the globe to access the near-shore reef ecosystems and highly migratory species such as tropical tuna, mackerels, and billfish that travel along the Somali Current. However, the richness of these waters has not historically translated into profitable domestic fisheries.
Somalia has the longest coastline in mainland Africa and the government manages more ocean than land territory. This vastness makes monitoring and patrolling the waters incredibly difficult and a prolonged civil war from 1991 to 2012 meant investment in maritime security suffered. Additional factors such as economic insecurity and weak law enforcement capacity exacerbated the issue, and by the mid-2000s, the Horn of Africa became synonymous with piracy. While conflict in Somalia's waters has been significant, there has also been tremendous progress over the past decade. Piracy was nearly eliminated, and the government has increased maritime domain awareness.
Our hotspot analysis shows Somalia continues to rank high in the risk of fisheries conflict, but greater information sharing and integration with the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission—an intergovernmental organization responsible for the management of tuna and tuna-like species in the Indian Ocean—could help change that course.