International Fisheries and Climate Variability

International Fisheries and Climate Variability Research Information

International Fisheries and Climate Variability research in ISSE, led by scientist Dr. Kathleen Miller, encompassess three separate projects that look at the impacts of climate variability on fish abundance and distribution and the implications of that variability for efforts to maintain effective cooperative international fisheries management.

Climatic variations affect the abundance, growth rate and migratory behavior of fish populations. These impacts are often complex, indirect and difficult to document and observe. In particular, the combined effects of fishing pressure and natural changes in the marine environment contribute to pronounced variability in the abundance and spatial distribution many commercially important marine fish stocks. The fisheries management community has long grappled with the problem of uncertainty arising from stochastic variations in stock dynamics and from the difficulty of observing the true impacts of harvesting on the health of the resource. For example, the "Precautionary Principle" is a concept that gained early popularity in the fisheries management literature.

Nonetheless, the depleted state of many of the world's fishery resources demonstrates that scientific understanding of the value of precaution is not enough. Sustainable fisheries management requires institutions that maintain incentives to harvest responsibly in the face uncertainty and environmental changes in stock dynamics. This is difficult enough to achieve in the context of domestic fisheries. When fish stocks are exploited by two or more nations, the problem of managing variable resources for the mutual benefit of all parties is even more difficult, but not insurmountable.

In the context of international fishery management regimes, uncertainty and natural variability can disrupt otherwise satisfactory sharing agreements by contributing to disputes regarding measures of performance, disagreements over appropriate management actions and changes in incentives to cooperate. The latter two issues may be closely linked in that divergent interests may be expressed as differing management preferences.

Game theory provides a powerful analytic perspective on the difficulty of achieving and maintaining effective cooperative management of shared fishery resources. Time consistency is a useful concept for understanding why environmental variability poses particular problems for international fishery management and for guiding assessment of options for addressing those problems. One of the major reasons why "time consistency"is an issue is that most real-world fishery games involve some type of asymmetry among the players. The existence of asymmetry affects the returns that each party can expect in the absence of cooperation, the range of mutually beneficial cooperative management options, and the likely distribution of the gains from a cooperative solution. However, such asymmetries are not constant over time. Natural environmental changes can alter the distribution and productivity of fish stocks in ways that change the comparative advantages of the competing fleets. When that happens, the optimal cooperative solution to the fishery game will change and if the fishery agreement in place is not sufficiently flexible to adjust to the changed opportunities and incentives, it will likely break down.

This problem is documented in Dr. Miller's recent research on U.S. and Canadian joint management of Pacific salmon harvests. A new project will assess the extent to which the management institutions governing the world's tuna fisheries have, or have not, dealt effectively with the impacts of climate-related variability in stock abundance and distribution.

For more information about International Fisheries and Climate Variability research in ISSE, or about individual projects, please contact Dr. Miller at kathleen@ucar.edu.

International Fisheries and Climate Variability Research Information
Climate Variability
and Pacific Salmon
Climatic Regime Shifts and Cooperative Fishery Management
Climate Variability: Implications for Tuna Management
International Fisheries and Climate Variability Research Information
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Please reference the photo credits for information about the images used in this website. ISSE's International Fisheries and Climate Variability research, the Institute for the Study of Society and Environment and the National Center for Atmospheric Research are sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
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