Fish is the new oil: five reasons why fish is an increasingly valuable resource

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Globally, fish consumption has increased from an average of 9.9 kilograms per person in the 1960s to 19.7 kilograms in 2013, with estimates for 2014 and 2015 above 20 kilograms.

These figures are lower than the current in Spain, which, together with Portugal and Japan, is the country where the most fish is consumed in the world: 42.3 kilos per year. But the fact that more and more countries are turning to fishing as a key food resource is sparking what US Coast Guard Captain Jay Caputo does not hesitate to describe in an article as a "global fish war in the making."

The fight for control of fishing is reminiscent of the situation that has been experienced with access to oil since the 1970s

The ten most productive species are at the limit of their capacity and demand continues to increase in politically unstable regions and with unclear or disputed borders. A cocktail of scarcity and insecurity that, as explained by the director of Public Policy at Vulcan Inc, Johan Bergenas, in an article published in NewSecurityBeat and shared by the World Economic Forum, fish appears to be the newest addition to the list of resources that They drive geopolitical conflicts and the struggle for their control is highly reminiscent of the situation that has been experienced with access to oil since the 1970s.

These are the five parallels between fish and "black gold":

1. It is a very concentrated resource

Almost half of the world's total oil production in 2017 came from just five countries, and almost half of the reserves are in the Middle East. Although fishery resources are somewhat more distributed, 60% of tunas, for example, are caught only in the western and central regions of the Pacific.

Since 1973, oil has been linked to between 25 and 50% of intergovernmental conflicts around the world. In Bergenas' view, the Pacific could be the new Middle East for tuna, with dozens of nations vying for a valuable resource.

They may go unnoticed, but there are numerous conflicts over the control of fishing in South and Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa, and there is nothing to suggest that they will be reduced, quite the contrary.

3. It is a tool of political control

From the OPEC embargoes, to the gas supply cuts that Russia is used to punishing, going through most of the conflicts in the Middle East, oil has been one of the main geopolitical weapons of the states with access for decades. to this and, therefore, an inexhaustible source of conflicts.

China is the most fish-dependent country in the world

Similarly, the concentration of tuna in the Pacific has made the sovereignty of those waters and access to fishing extremely valuable. With 22 small island states and territories within the western and central Pacific region, overfishing and disputes over access and fishing rights are common.

China, which is the country most dependent on fish in the world, uses its fishing fleet, controlled as almost everything directly by the State, as if it were a third of its Navy. The Asian giant is not kidding around: it has threatened war if any other nation, including the United States, tries to exclude it from its surrounding waters.

Similar conflicts are fought in African fishing grounds, whose exploitation particularly affects Spain. Control, for example, of the waters of Western Sahara is a matter of dispute between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front. European justice has pointed out that the fishing agreement between the European Union and Morocco does not include this territory and, therefore, the union's vessels, which carry out 90% of the work in those waters, will not be able to fish under it. The court does not fully resolve the issue and its decision has no practical effect on the work of the fishermen, but it does note the enormous headache of fishing control. And the conflicts far from being reduced will continue to increase.

3. A finite resource

Although, in theory, with adequate quota policies, fishing should have the capacity to renew itself, the truth is that its sustainability is very precarious today. As Bergenas points out, almost 90% of the world's fish stocks are fully exploited or overexploited, and some scientists estimate that in 30 years there may be little or no shellfish available.

While fish production, largely driven by aquaculture, is expected to increase by 17% by 2025, it will not keep pace with demand, which is forecast to increase by 21%.

To the overexploitation of the waters, we must also add a new problem: climate change, which greatly affects the distribution of cold-water species, and will cause high rates of local extinction in the tropics and semi-enclosed seas.

4. A fundamental commodity

It might be thought that, unlike oil, which today is still needed by all countries in the world, fishing is substitutable for other sources of protein - in many inland areas fish have never been eaten. But the truth is that one billion people currently depend on fish to meet their nutritional needs, and this number will grow as the population does, especially in developing countries.

Fish is the most traded food product in the world. In addition to the roughly 100 million tonnes consumed as food each year, fish also provide oil, glue, animal feed and fertilizers, and play an increasingly important role in biomedical research. Even excluding aquaculture, marine fisheries provide approximately 260 million jobs worldwide. It goes without saying that if the sector collapses we will find ourselves faced with a problem of gigantic proportions, especially in countries where the fishing industry is most important, such as Spain.

5. A growing black market

The more scarce a product is, the more the number of actors who want to make money from it in spurious ways increases. About 8% of the oil that is extracted in the world ends up on the black market and its exploitation is the largest source of income for organizations such as Daesh, which, it is estimated, earns about 3 million dollars a day thanks to the deposits that controls in Syria and Iraq.

Criminal organizations exploit freckle to finance their other activities

Although the black market for fish is much smaller in absolute size, in proportion it is even larger. It is estimated that poaching or irregular fishing generates about 36,000 million dollars a year, which represents around 25% of the legal market.

As with oil, criminal organizations exploit freckle to finance their other activities: Mexican drug cartels, for example, diversify their income by trafficking in totoaba fish, whose swim bladders, which is considered an almost magical remedy by the traditional Chinese medicine, they sell for more than $ 8,500 per kilo.

In the Caribbean, one of the region's historic activities is on the rise: piracy. The political and economic crises that especially affect Venezuela, Nicaragua and Haiti, are fostering crime in waters where fish itself is now one of the most valuable resources. A two-year study by the nonprofit Oceans Beyond Piracy recorded 71 major incidents in the region in 2017, including merchant ship robberies and attacks on yachts, an increase of 163 percent compared to the previous year.

The fact that catches are being reduced is also causing fishermen in many disadvantaged regions to use their boats for other types of activities, namely transporting all kinds of illegal goods, mainly weapons and drugs.

Images | iStock / Anna & Michal / Dave See / José Pereira
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