Having recently visited Newfoundland and Labrador over the summer for another family visit, I learned of an infamous fishing dispute which occurred in the mid-1990s. Wanting to further understand the history of Canada’s newest province and the province where my family is from, I went to search for the dispute on the internet. But what I found was more vast than I imagined for a seemingly small news piece, so important was the conflict that it turned out to be a controversy of Canadian foreign policy. The“Turbot War” which took place off the coast of Newfoundland in 1995, was a fishing conflict between the Canadian government and the vast majority of the European Union siding with Spain. The Turbot War began because Spain was overfishing their quota in international waters. But this was unfortunate for Canada because the Spanish were overfishing just outside of Canadian waters and Newfoundland fisheries took the toll. Despite international treaties set out by organizations such as the North Atlantic Fishery Organization (NAFO), which state the quantity of fish countries can catch, Spanish vessels and many other countries sill managed to easily sneak in more fish than the quota prescribes. They were able to do so simply because overfishing is hard to track; this is due primarily to modern technology which allows vessels to hold sheer amounts of fish on board vessels and allows vessels to be out at sea for a long time. On March 9th the Canadian government’s, particularly the Canadian Cabinet Minister Brian Tobin’s, pressure and impatience erupted into strong action and vessels of the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canadian Navy were sent to intercept a lone Spanish trawler the Estai fishing just outside of Canadian waters. Initially, the Estai ignored the warnings of the pursuing Canadian vessels, this led to the navy firing a .50 caliber machine gun near the Estai. The crew of the Estai had no choice but to submit to the Canadian vessels and was escorted to St. Johns harbor. Thus called the “Estai Incident”, the Canadian Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans was brought to the international spot light.
With the UK and Ireland fighting diplomatically on behalf of Canada amongst a Spanish backed EU, sanctions weren’t placed on Canada for what the majority of the EU believed was unlawful detainment of Spanish citizens. The Spanish government in response sent naval vessels of their own to protect their fishing fleets, and Canada did likewise, even to the point of authorizing the navy to fire on Spanish vessels who expose their guns. Fortunately no military intervention was necessary because the UK on April 5th came up with an agreement for Spain and Canada which effectively ended the Turbot War. This new arrangement called for the formation of a group to oversee international fishing operations. Thus another fishing dispute between two countries was resolved, but it was only the end of the beginning.
Into the 21st century, a new problem is recognized by science as a threat to the international fishing industry: climate change. Though there are many known impacts on fisheries and aquaculture as a result of climate change and there are many known solutions keep to them at bay, they are issues still not taken seriously by fishing industries. The broad effect of climate change on the fisheries is the warming of the oceans; this in turn ruins the natural habitats of fish. One issue that has recently received fair treatment in the Canadian media and the one I will primarily focus on, is the study of decreasing fish size as a result of climate change. An assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, William Cheung stated, “Our study shows a substantial reduction in the maximum body size of fish”. Cheung claims that the heating of the ocean waters causes the body temperature of the fish to heat up which in turn gives the fish a higher metabolism. With a higher metabolism the fish require more oxygen, but with climate change, there is less oxygen in the oceans. “Without the oxygen, fish don’t grow.”, Cheung put it in simple context. I believe this decrease in fish size will cause more irrational human action like overfishing; human beings will try to find the simplest solution even if it isn’t for the greater good. And the greater good in this case is not only providing enough fish for people, but climate change effecting the Earth as a whole. But it doesn’t end there, what are the implications of climate change-made fishing issues on international fishery laws? Will the existing laws be tested?
Its hard for me to believe that world fisheries will face the problem of climate change in a reasonable manner without creating diplomatic crises. My evidence being the Turbot War and the slow human realization of climate change in general. If the Canadian government intervened powerfully due to overfishing caused from another country, how will they fare with climate change in the mix? I’m not trying to accuse the Canadian government of irrationality, I’m trying to bring to the forefront the implications of international climate change on fisheries and the issue of diplomacy evolving from a new threat – a new phenomenon, but this time including the environment.
Here’s another good link for the Turbot War: http://www1.carleton.ca/ces/eulearning/eu-learning/geography/turbot-war/
And here’s another good link for climate change effecting aquaculture: http://www.fao.org/fishery/topic/13789/en