SHIFTING OCEAN GOVERNANCE
Unlike most natural assets on land, many ocean resources (such as the bluefin tuna that is prized for sushi) regularly swim across jurisdictional boundaries. In addition, damage incurred within one nation’s jurisdiction (like plastic pollution) can impact nations many thousands of kilometres away. Meanwhile climate change is driving seafood stocks towards the planet’s poles in a bid to escape warming waters. This can create worrisome volatility in less-developed regions, as fish travel out of the reach of countries that need them most. Unfortunately, policies that can properly address these issues have been deferred.
Current regulation does not adequately address current challenges. The ocean has always been difficult to govern; it covers 90% of the habitable space on Earth, creating an immense, supranational domain with unique regulatory challenges.
Two-thirds of the ocean is located on the high seas, or outside of the jurisdiction of any single country. The United Nations has committed to developing a first-of-its-kind, legally-binding treaty to better manage biodiversity and resources on the high seas by 2020 - if it is successfully implemented, it could be a significant boon for ocean biodiversity.
One positive related development has been the establishment of marine protected areas, which can buy time for at-risk ecosystems to better adapt to climate change. However, researchers at the University of York have concluded that about 30% of the ocean needs to be placed within protected areas in order to meet ocean health management goals - though just over 7% is currently designated as a protected area.
The United Kingdom has protected an area of ocean larger than the country’s own land mass, and Chile, the US, and Kiribati have established protected areas that are collectively larger than Italy. As other countries seek to catch up, more must be done to ensure the effectiveness of existing protections.
The cross-border migration of valuable seafood can deprive developing economies of resources and spur regional conflict. Research published in the journal Science in 2018 suggested that as many as 70 countries will see new fish stocks in their national waters by the year 2100 as a result of climate change. New international agreements are needed to govern the sharing of fishery resources, and to prevent countries from over harvesting stocks when they realize assets are migrating beyond their borders.