Today 125 scientists from 27 countries, led by preeminent fisheries experts Daniel Pauly and Boris Worm, warned World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Pascal Lamy that unless the WTO acts to significantly reduce worldwide subsidies to the fishing sector, global overfishing and other destructive fishing practices will likely result in the permanent damage of the ocean ecosystem.
In a letter to Lamy, the group of scientists asserted that "an ambitious outcome in the ongoing WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations is vital to the future of the world's fisheries," and appealed to the Director-General to use his skill and leadership to "demonstrate to the world that the WTO can play a constructive role in solving problems of global consequence."
Other signatories to the letter include Jeremy B.C. Jackson, Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Andrew Rosenberg, University of New Hampshire and U.S. Ocean Commissioner; Carl Safina, leading scientist and author; Callum Roberts, University of York (UK); Larry Crowder, Duke University Marine Lab; and Wallace "J" Nichols, California Academy of Sciences.
Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless will also meet today with Director-General Lamy about the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations. Accompanying Sharpless will be Dr. Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia (UBC), one of the lead signatories on the letter and principal author of the first comprehensive assessment of subsidies to the fishing sector. The UBC study found that worldwide subsidies amount to $30 to $34 billion annually - significantly more than previous estimates - with at least $20 billion directly supporting fishing capacity.
"The WTO has a once in a lifetime chance to demonstrate that it can not only balance trade and the environment, but make one of the greatest contributions to protecting the world's oceans," said Andrew Sharpless, chief executive officer of Oceana. "The WTO needs to seize the opportunity presented by the fisheries subsidies negotiations to address global overfishing, because as the world's leading scientists have declared, if we wait it will be too late. It is up to the WTO to call a stop to this short sighted race to capture the last fish in the ocean."
Saying that the world's oceans are at a tipping point, the scientists identified reducing fisheries subsidies as one of the most significant actions that can be taken because of the strong economic incentives they create to overfish. The results of the WTO negotiations will "directly impact our ability to ensure the long-term sustainability of the world's fisheries," the scientists wrote.
The WTO is currently engaged in negotiations on fisheries subsidies as part of its Doha trade "round." These talks are historic in that they represent the first time that conservation concerns - overfishing and the impacts on the fishery resource - in addition to commerce priorities, led to the launch of a specific trade negotiation. WTO negotiators are tasked with strengthening the international trade rules on subsidies to the fishing sector, including through the prohibition of subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.
For more information on fisheries subsidies, visit www.cutthebait.org.