(Almost) three days of (almost) night

This is as light as it gets where I was this week:

The location is Tromsø, Norway. I was there the last few days to discuss the effect of climate change on arctic fisheries. Interestingly, this effect is not necessarily negative – for the Norwegians, that is. Stocks like mackerel may move northwards, making more mackerel available to Norwegian fishers at the expense of more southern less northern fleets (like the Dutch). Other effects may be that arctic stocks become more productive, and as stocks get larger they can also be found in places where they weren’t before. So the University of Tromsø gathered together fisheries economists from Norway, Denmark and Iceland (adding a stray Dutch aspiring fisheries economist and a Mexican professor) to discuss what the economic effects may be, where these effects take place, and how economists can analyse these effects.

My highlights from this meeting:

  • Much of the research in this domain is descriptive: what is happening, and what may happen in the future? This concerns issues varying from what fishers do, where they will fish and how intensively, to the willingness of countries to cooperate in fisheries policy when stocks move northwards.
  • Prescriptive research – which routes should be kept open, where should marine protected areas be allocated – is scarce. I was one of the few participants presenting such research, and even that was about Vietnamese mangrove forests (not exactly arctic) and Dutch agri-environment schemes (not exactly marine or arctic). Juan Carlos Seijo had a very nice presentation about where to allocate a marine protected area in an ecosystem where the commercial fish originates from a particular (nursery) area. Not very surprisingly, one should protect the nursery area from fishing, but if you take into account what fishers do the effect of the allocation also depends on whether the nursery lies close to the fishing port or far away from it.
  • Norwegians are delightfully unapologetic about hunting and whaling. I can’t blame them: they have plenty of fish, minke whale and game, and as far as I can see they manage these stocks fairly well. Meanwhile, the Dutch get squeamish about whether we should cull deer (but hunting is cruel), let them starve (which is even crueler), or risk hitting them on the highway (would you like a deer in your windscreen?).
  • All the more surprising that the Dutch hunted whales, seals, and other cuddly arctic fauna on a large scale before the Norwegians did.
  • Norwegian is a very efficient language. “Hello how are you today?” is “hej”; “thank you very much” is “takk”. Why waste energy on redundant syllables?

Tromsø is a fascinating place. After Murmansk it is the largest city above the polar circle, and around this time of the year the sun does not rise – you get some twilight between 10am and 2pm, that’s it. The city is proud of its arctic hunters (like Wanny Woldstad) and explorers (like Roald Amundsen). But I admit I’m glad to have some sunlight again.

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