“Eliminating the global subsidies that drive overfishing is the largest single action we can take now to protect our fisheries. This is within our reach and the choice is ours – over the next two decades the health of the world’s fisheries will be restored or they will be gone. Oceana is greatly encouraged by the efforts of the United States Trade Representative to ban the subsidies that are pushing the world’s fisheries and ocean ecosystem to irreversible collapse.”
Those were the words of Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless following a meeting last Tuesday, February 21 with U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman on the status of the ongoing fisheries subsidies negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO). The pair met at the Trade Representative’s office to exchange information on the efforts of their respective organizations to move the negotiations to a successful conclusion. Talks are currently underway in the WTO to strengthen the rules on fisheries subsidies, including through the prohibition of subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.
<psonormal /><psonormal />Portman assured Sharpless that the United States remains committed in banning harmful fisheries subsidies and said that he would personally raise this with the European Union, which to date has not actively engaged on the issue. Portman’s office also indicated that the negotiations are entering a critical phase, anticipating that text proposals may be presented from some countries this week.
<psonormal /><psonormal />Sharpless said that the urgency of the issue is creating its momentum. “We have too many boats chasing too few fish. And worst yet, our oceans are being fished to death, sponsored by the payments of a handful of major fishing nations to their fleets,” said Sharpless. <psonormal /> <psonormal />
Fisheries subsidies are large, producing a worldwide fleet that some estimate to be 250 percent larger than what is needed to fish at sustainable levels. According to conservative estimates, subsidies account for 20 to 25 percent of global fishing revenue -- approximately $15-$20 billion each year. Fisheries subsidies also appear to be concentrated in relatively few countries, disadvantaging fishing communities elsewhere, including those in the United States.
<psonormal /><psonormal />The consideration of fisheries subsidies by the WTO is the first time that environmental concerns, in addition to trade priorities, led to the launch of a trade negotiation. In December 2005, Oceana participated in the WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong as an advisor to the U.S. government. Since then, Oceana has been told by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy that the “importance of fisheries subsidies negotiations in the WTO cannot be underestimated.” On February 17, in a speech in Washington, DC, Lamy again reiterated the importance of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, saying that “the U.S. has also been a leading and effective advocate of the tighter disciplines on fisheries subsides. It is important that this key environmental objective of the round advances over the coming weeks.”
<psonormal />The United States has been working with a diverse coalition of countries, dubbed the “Friends of Fish,” including both developed and developing countries such as Australia, Chile, Ecuador, Iceland, New Zealand, Peru, and the Philippines, to achieve a broad-based prohibition of subsidies that lead to overfishing and the overexploitation of fisheries.
<psonormal /><psonormal />Sharpless, who also chairs a USTR task force on fisheries subsidies, further added that “there is much work that needs to be done, but the good news is that when it comes to saving the oceans a broad group of interests, including environmentalists, the business community, and consumer groups, is in agreement on eliminating the excessive subsidies given to the fishing sector.” <psonormal />
<psonormal />The mass subsidization of the fishing industry is occurring at a time when nearly all of the world’s fish populations are in jeopardy from overfishing and other destructive fishing practices. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are now overexploited, fully exploited, significantly depleted or recovering from overexploitation. A recent Oceana analysis of more than a hundred fisheries in the Atlantic between the Arctic Sea and the Gulf of Cadiz concluded that more than half should be closed immediately due to depletion, and only one in ten had enough fish to sustain current fishing levels. These populations include ones of high commercial value and because many of these fish are at the top of the ocean food chain, their depletion is disrupting marine ecosystems worldwide.
<psonormal /><psonormal />Of additional concern is the fact that more than a billion people worldwide depend on fish as their primary source of protein and millions, in both developed and developing countries, depend on fishing for all or part of their income. <psonormal />