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Fish Wars!

In an era of terrorist attacks and global warming it sounds a bit ridiculous to fight over fish but it’s a war that has been going on for centuries all over the globe and it has only intensified over the last 100 years.Whether its one country against another, native people vs. settlers, tribe against tribe or commercial vs. recreational, wars have been and are still being fought over fish. I have listed just a few examples of some conflicts fought over or because of fish.There were three cod wars in the nineteen fifties sixties and seventies between Iceland and Great Britain. British vessels were fishing in traditional Icelandic fishing grounds or what they considered their exclusive economic zone. Iceland used its warships to escort the English vessels elsewhere and Britain responded by escorting its fishing fleet with her warships into their waters. There was a similar “war” fought over Atlantic cod in the late 1980’s between Iceland and Canada over the right to fish for the dwindling cod stocks on the Grand Banks.In Northern California Native Americans traded shots with white gill-netters over the right to fish for salmon on the Klamath and Eel rivers in the late 1970’s.Native Americans were accused by white fishermen of stringing gillnets completely across the upper sections of the Klamath and Eel rivers where they flowed through tribal lands. If true, this would have affected both commercial and recreational salmon fishing in the lower river sections for years to come. Living and working in those areas at that time I can tell that when you hear a shot whiz over your head you realize that somebody’s taking fishing regulation to the next level.In Africa a trawl fishery was developed on some of the rift valley lakes in east Africa in the 1970’s. An entire economy sprang up around that fishery; boat building, net making, housing, stores and a host of support facilities. A population of over 500,000 people made a living from that fishery in one way or another. Unfortunately for them that fishery wasn’t managed very well. In fact, except for a few Peace Corp volunteers telling them to slow down the rate of fishing, they were not managed at all. The fishery collapsed. These people lost their way of life, their primary food source and the lake economy failed. The people were left with two choices – either move or starve. Estimates were that 300,000 people died either of starvation or were killed in the local wars by tribes whose lands they moved through. The natives of those lands saw them only as a people who would take what little food they had plus, after all, they were from a different tribe.In Maine during 1688 and 1689 a war was waged between the Abenaki Indians and English settlers over fishing rights and land ownership. The English placed nets across the mouth of the Saco River blocking fish migration and threatened a major food source of the Abenaki. In coordination with allies from various tribes both the Abenaki and the English raided each other’s towns and villages for two years until an agreement was reached. Hundreds of these “Fish Wars” have taken place all over the world throughout recorded history. If you would like to read more about “Fish wars” just type in “Cod Fish War” into your browser and you will have a good starting point.

Think Global -Act Local!


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