US Department of Defense awards grant to project aiming to predict how climate change could lead to conflicts over fishing rights

A fishing fleet at the dock in the Netherlands.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded an Oregon State University (OSU) researcher USD 1.4 million (EUR 1.3 million) over three years to predict how fish stocks could shift due to climate change, specifically focusing on movements that have the potential to cause geopolitical tension.

The research aims to support world leaders in reducing the risk of future conflicts and, if tensions do rise, enhancing global preparedness for such instances.

Climate change already impacts and is likely to continue altering the biophysical characteristics of global oceans by affecting water temperatures, pH levels, and the direction of currents, among other changes. These shifts reshape the distribution of harvestable fish species, and fishers respond by altering their patterns to mirror those movements.

Therefore, disputes or general contention regarding access to shifting stocks will be the main focus of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences Associate Professor James Watson, who is leading the research.

“Understanding how ocean conditions are going to change, where the fish are going to move, where fishing is going to shift, and then whether different nations have a history of conflict over fisheries ... allows us to start imagining future scenarios where things go well and where things don’t go well in terms of nations cooperating over access to these shifting fish stocks,” Watson said.

The DoD, a branch of the United States government responsible for national security, awarded this grant as one of 11, amounting to USD 18 million (EUR 16 million) in total funding.

“We live in a dynamic world, and many of the challenges we face are social or have social elements to them,” Secretary of Defense Office for Research and Engineering (R&E) Director of Social Science David Montgomery said in a recent press release. “Leveraging the strengths of the nation’s academic research institutions helps the DoD define sources of present and future conflicts, with an eye toward better understanding the social and political trajectories of key regions of the world.”

Watson and his team aim to explain why nations engage in conflict over shifting resources to improve anticipation and preparedness in the face of climate change; provide predictions for the movement of crucial species, such as pollock and bluefin tuna; identify specific actors and nations that may lose or gain access to ... 

Photo courtesy of Rudmer Zwerver/Shutterstock

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