Too Many Boats Fishing For Too Few Fish - Oceana USA
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August 3, 2007

Too Many Boats Fishing For Too Few Fish

Here’s a remarkable fact: Global fishery collapse is being financed with tax money.

You already know that many nations are failing to enforce the laws that are essential to keeping our oceans healthy and abundant forever. Instead, they are presiding over a global ocean collapse. According to a report in Science, 29 percent of the world’s commercial fisheries have already collapsed.

This is terrible news for the billion people who turn to the ocean for protein, the hundreds of millions of people who need the sea for a livelihood and the countless extraordinary marine creatures that don’t deserve to go the way of the buffalo.

What you will be surprised to learn is that massive over-capacity in the world’s fishing fleet is being paid for by taxes. A study by the University of British Columbia recently revealed that $30 to $40 billion in taxpayer subsidies are paid to the commercial fishing industry worldwide – $20 billion of which directly promotes the increase of fishing capacity. And the value of the world’s catch at dockside is only $80 to $90 billion.This means that there are fishing companies dragging huge nets through the ocean at a financial loss. The only way they are able to continue to do it is because taxpayers’ yen, euros, Yuan and other currencies are paid to them to keep fishing.

Indeed, one of the most destructive forms of fishing known to man – short of dynamite and cyanide – is bottom trawling. In this form of industrial fishing, hundred-yard wide weighted nets are dragged along the bottom of the ocean. As you can imagine, it takes big engines that consume a lot of oil to drag these nets. Given the high cost of oil right now, most bottom trawling around the world – without subsidies – is unprofitable. The reason it continues is because governments are paying these fleets to keep dragging.

So here’s a simple idea: Let’s stop paying people to over-fish.

Right now, for the first time in the all-too-often dismal story of the global mismanagement of our oceans, we have reason to hope for comprehensive, enforceable cuts in the subsidies that are driving global species to collapse. The World Trade Organization has put this item squarely on its agenda. Oceana, together with our allies like World Wildlife Federation, has been pushing the WTO to make good on its promise.  No nation wants to “unilaterally disarm” in the race to catch the last fish. That’s why the WTO is the best place to make this happen. It has the enforceable, multi-lateral authority needed to get the nations of the world to stop this crazy policy of paying commercial fleets to have too many boats chasing too few fish.

Happily, some of the world’s leading nations, among them the United States, have proposed very good language to the WTO that, if adopted, would cut these subsidies. I have the pleasure of chairing the Fisheries Subsidies Task Force, which advises the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Susan Schwab. Last month, at our urging, both houses of Congress passed resolutions strongly supporting cuts in capacity-promoting subsidies.