Fishermen are pivoting to piracy as the seas heat up

Jolly Roger

Climate change isn't just causing weird weather patterns, like stronger storms or flood surges wreaking havoc on coastal communities and infrastructure. Apparently, scientists say, we can also blame it for — we shit you not — an increase in pirate attacks in the waters off East Africa.

It's not quite as wild as it sounds. As the ocean off East Africa experiences warmer surface temperatures, fish stocks have suffered, and the resulting economic destabilization has led to increased piracy in the area, as detailed in a new paper in the journal Weather, Climate and Society. Strengthening the case, the same study also analyzed the South China Sea, another piracy hotspot, and found that increased fish production was correlated with a decrease in pirate attacks.

Sound whimsical? On a certain level, sure. But piracy is still a serious global issue, and the climate even more so — so the fact that researchers are charting a link between the two should give anyone pause.

"In a timeline of roughly 20 years, we’re picking up statistically significant, measurable differences," study coauthor Gary LaFree, a professor of criminology at the University of Maryland, told the Guardian. "I was surprised by how rapidly those changes are occurring, especially when you think of climate change most likely accelerating in the future."


The study looked at about two decades of data and analyzed more than 2,000 acts of piracy in the two regions.

Complicating the picture, the researchers also noted that some of the pirates plying these waters are also fishermen, who live largely hand to mouth and have the skills and know-how to navigate the ocean, making them ideal pirates for this new age of maritime crime.

"You tend to think either you are a criminal or a non-criminal," LaFree told the Guardian. "But there is evidence from other researchers that some fishermen drift into it, depending on how fishing is going,"

All told? It's just one more example of the sometimes bafflingly complex risks posed by a warming climate — and particularly how the carbon-spewing developed world is causing myriad problems for poorer areas that use far fewer fossil fuels.

"If our arguments are correct, and sea temperatures continue to rise into the foreseeable future," reads the researchers' paper, "the struggle against piracy in east Africa will become increasingly difficult."

More on the climate: Climate Change Is Apparently Doing Something Weird to Satellites.

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