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March 26, 2015

Agreeing on Trade to Save the Oceans and Feed the World

Early morning trawlers sailing in the port of Roses. Catamaran Oceana Ranger Mediterranean Expedition in July 2006.
(Photo: © OCEANA / Juan Cuetos)


The Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud announced this month, at Seafood Expo North America in Boston, its plan to crack down on pirate fishing. The just-released Task Force’s Action Plan includes directing the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to use trade agreements to “pursue international commitments to eliminate fisheries subsidies that contribute to excess fishing capacity, overfishing, and IUU fishing by 2020.”

This instruction is very timely as the United States and 11 other Asia-Pacific nations are expected to conclude this year a regional trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is poised to produce waves for the oceans and fisheries by including the world’s first measures to control and reduce harmful fisheries subsidies.

Stopping “overfishing subsidies” is one of the most significant actions that can be taken to protect the world’s oceans. Subsidies promote overfishing, pushing fleets to fish longer, harder and farther away than is economically and biologically sustainable. The world needs to stop government subsidies that provide incentives to fish the oceans to death and Oceana is pleased to note U.S. leadership in pressing for enforceable and binding fisheries provisions in the developing TPP.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership is on track to include pioneering commitments to prohibit some of the most harmful fisheries subsidies, as well as combat IUU fishing,” said Michael Froman, U.S. Trade Representative in a press release last week.

The TPP has the opportunity to help save the oceans and feed the world. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), ninety percent of marine fisheries worldwide are now overexploited, fully exploited, significantly depleted or recovering from overexploitation. The TPP countries represent one-third of the world’s wild catch by weight. Eight of the TPP countries are among the world’s top 20 producers. Moreover, IUU fishing is valued at approximately $6 billion across the Asia-Pacific region.

Binding provisions on fisheries subsidies in the TPP and future trade agreements are critical to address global overfishing and to give fishermen all over the world equal opportunities in domestic and export markets. Enforceable disciplines in the TPP to stop harmful fisheries subsidies would be a hands-down win for fisheries and people who depend on them for protein, livelihood and income.

The United States has long been a global leader and advocate in support of disciplines on harmful fisheries subsidies. The TPP has the opportunity to shape future trade rules on fisheries subsidies and set a historic precedent for how trade can help restore the oceans to abundance. Most immediately, the TPP could be an example of specific trade disciplines on fisheries subsidies for the World Trade Organization Doha Work Program and the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership, an agreement the United States is negotiating with the European Union.

Our marine ecosystems are at a tipping point and high levels of harmful fisheries subsidies worldwide are a major part of this problem. Oceana thanks the Administration for the bold measures embodied in the Task Force, and is encouraged by the United States’ efforts and leadership in achieving international trade measures on fisheries subsidies and illegal fishing to help make our oceans as rich, healthy and abundant as they once were.