Written by Nereus Research Associate Ryan Swanson,

Nereus research fellow Jessica Spijkers’s (Stockholm Resilience Centre – SRC) publication on fisheries conflicts – co-authored by Gerald Singh (UBC), Robert Blasiak (SRC), Henrik Österblom (SRC), et al. – is the focal point of an article that appeared in Hakai Magazine on July 5, 2019. For their featured study, the authors performed a longitudinal analysis of fisheries conflicts using data collected from English-speaking news reports to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the frequency of international fisheries conflicts over time?
  2. What types of fisheries conflict events exist internationally and what actors are involved?
  3. What strategies are used to respond to different types of conflict?

They found that the number of international fisheries conflicts has been increasing overall during the past four decades (1974-2016, with a minor decrease from 1998-2007), and are beginning to occur more often between Asian nations (responsible for 43% of the international fisheries conflicts that have occurred since 2000) that are illegally fishing for multiple and nonspecific species. This is a shift away from regions where conflicts have been historically more prevalent ­– North America (between U.S. and Canada) and Europe – and when conflicts tended to be single-species specific.

With the combination of a burgeoning demand for seafood as sustenance for the world’s growing population, resource scarcity, and climate change influencing fish migration patterns, the situation is ripe for fisheries conflicts between nations to spread and increase in severity, something the authors warn about. Indeed, they write that “In a highly connected world, the possibility for localized fisheries conflict to escalate into ‘systemic risks’, where risk in one domain such as food supply can increase risk in another domain such as maritime security and international relations, is growing.” To reduce these risks, or avoid international fisheries conflicts, the authors propose strategies (e.g. treaties that delineate areas where fishing is allowed) and advocate for conflict management across political boundaries, as well as call upon governments and scientists to more thoroughly investigate the drivers that lead to these conflicts and their associated impacts.

You can read Jessica’s original summary about her publication that appeared on the Nereus Program website here.


Spijkers, J., Singh, G., Blasiak, R., Morrison, T.H., Le Billon, P. & Österblom, H. (2019). Global patterns of fisheries conflict: Forty years of data. Global Environmental Change, 57, 101921. link

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