Marine invasive species as liabilities and assets: Economic externalities and trade-offs in the Arctic and beyond
Melina Kourantidou, Assistant Professor, University of Southern Denmark/ Department of Sociology, Environmental and Business Economics
Arctic marine ecosystems are experiencing profound changes driven by climate change and increasing anthropogenic activity. Prominent features of stressors in the Arctic include observed changes in oceanographic variables as well as other ecological disturbances which are anticipated to continue and accelerate in coming years. Such changes are expected to substantially assist in the expansion of non-indigenous species northward. Of major concern is that the thawing Arctic waters enable economic development in the region and increase the risk for human-mediated exogenous arrivals. Invasive species are considered one of the most important inadvertent drivers of biodiversity loss and are known for exerting strong impacts on human welfare. When those species are also viewed as valuable resources that support local economies, conservation agents and resource managers are charged with balancing the socio-economic benefits of harvesting with the declining ecosystem health caused by the invasion. With those challenges in mind, this work addresses determinants of economic and ecological changes in Arctic marine resources as a result of the way commercially valued invasive species are managed. The work presented is motivated by the Red King Crab invasion in the Barents Sea, but has broader implications. It addresses bioeconomic trade-offs associated with invasive species management – a challenge for which losses from the invasion are just one input. It seeks to inform ways to achieve socially desirable outcomes by assessing policies and decision-making processes at the intersection between conservation of Arctic marine ecosystems and socioeconomic welfare of fishing communities. The approach reappraises the role of commercial harvesting as a management tool for controlling invasive species. The lack of knowledge and scientific consensus about features of the invasion does not reduce the need to act on little information. The institutional structures in place for combatting invasive species in the Arctic have many gaps. Invasive species are externalities to trade and economic development, and as such call for regulatory intervention across political and national boundaries that require incentive-compatible cooperation. Such cooperation may be particularly difficult in light of imperfect information about the net benefits of prevention of invasive species. Those benefits are also unequally distributed according to bio-economic conditions and therefore warrant more research into optimal control frameworks that can assist in decision-making and assessment of management strategies. Understanding the economic incentives, the different stakeholders’ interests, and the underlying trade-offs behind biological invasions is central to optimal management and efficient allocation of resources.