As I told you recently, I had the pleasure of participating in the TED Mission Blue voyage to the Galapagos Islands, led by legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle. I was one of seven “idea champions” on board, and this was my idea: We can tackle the problem of overfishing by curbing fishing subsidies.
Although 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are now either overexploited, fully exploited, significantly depleted or recovering from overexploitation, many governments continue to provide huge subsidies — about $20 billion annually — to their fishing sectors.
The fleets are fishing at a level that’s as much as 2.5 times more than what’s required for sustainable catch levels.
I feel strongly that halting fishing subsidies is one of the single greatest actions that can be taken to protect the world’s oceans. And I was hoping others on board would agree with me. Canvassing on the ship with a clipboard and a pencil, I felt like I was back in school, collecting signatures in the cafeteria.
And it worked.
By the end of the voyage, I was able to get 65 participants — including Sylvia Earle, Chevy Chase, Glenn Close and Leonardo DiCaprio — to sign on to a letter to the leaders of the G-20 nations. These world leaders have the ability to end the subsidies that are depleting our oceans of the protein upon which millions of people depend.
We sent the letter last week to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and today it appears in the Ottawa newspaper. The letter urges Harper and the other leaders of the G-20 nations to pledge their support to stop the expansion of fishing subsidy programs at the World Trade Organization’s upcoming fisheries subsidies negotiations, in which they participate. They should start at the G-20 meeting next month in Toronto.
Oceana has been working since 2006 to produce new trade rules from the WTO that effectively control fisheries subsidies. I am hopeful that when the leaders of the G-20 read this letter, they will understand that it’s in their power to stop these wasteful subsidies.
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.