Promoting Peace through Shared Governance of the Seas: Can Regional Fisheries Management Organizations Manage Fisheries Conflict?

Are climate change and declining fisheries productivity likely to lead to a future of fish wars, or can existing fisheries management institutions evolve to help prevent large-scale fisheries conflict? Writing in the Washington Post in 2017, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Admiral James Stavridis and Johan Bergenas warned “the fishing wars are coming,” with climate change further stressing the oceans’ fragile fisheries. The South China Sea, Persian Gulf, the North Sea, and even the English Channel have emerged as areas of concern. While a future of fish wars is one potential path, there are other, more peaceful possibilities. Multilateral governance structures could achieve better outcomes, yielding better management of fisheries resources and building peaceful interactions around the resources. Creating coordinated, multinational maritime response teams for maritime policing and sharing information could help prevent fisheries conflicts. Additionally, regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) could provide governance and dispute resolution mechanisms. These mechanisms could close some of the pathways leading to fisheries conflict. In doing so, we will not just expand our understanding of the peace-sustainability nexus. We will also help productively manage resources that are key to the Japanese economy and national security, and are also a crucial source of food and livelihood for millions the world over.

Short-term (until March 2021)

  • Compile a database of militarized fisheries disputes between sovereign states covering the period 1816-2010s and integrate with existing data sources on nonviolent conflicts;
  • Begin coding a database of regional fisheries management organizations for their geographic extent, institutional characteristics, and resilience to climate change;
  • Organize virtually-convened presentations and speakers for NERPS affiliates and members of the broader fisheries conflict community to facilitate knowledge sharing and catalyze partnerships.

Medium-term (until March 2022)

  • Travel to Hiroshima (June-July 2021 and March 2022) for in-person networking and teaching;
  • Compilation of geographically-resolved climate data;
  • Analysis of combined datasets and submission of resulting manuscripts to international fisheries and international relations conferences;
  • Drafting of proposals for funding.

Long-term (until March 2024)

  • Publication of manuscripts cover the new data, resulting analysis, and broad dissemination using online media, direct engagement with regional fisheries management organization personnel, and government officials in the United States, Japan, and in multilateral fora;
  • Secure funding for longer-term research on sustainable fisheries governance, including identifying and disseminating best practices in the design and reform of fisheries management organizations;
  • Contributing to a sustainable future through enhancing governance capacity to manage fisheries conflicts.

  1. Mendenhall, Elizabeth, Cullen Hendrix, Elizabeth Nyman, Paige M. Roberts, John Robison Hoopes, James R. Watson, Vicky W.Y. Lam, and U. Rashid Sumaila. Climate change increases the risk of fisheries conflict. 2020. Marine Policy 117, 103954. 
  2. Cullen Hendrix and Zachary Lien. 2021. Managing fisheries conflict in the 21st century: a role for regional management organizations? New Security Beat, February 1.