Will eliminating government subsidies save fisheries?:
Sustainable fisheries serve common interest, by Thomas Niles and Andrew Sharpless, Financial Times: It is hardly a secret that environmental and business interests often cross swords ... reinforcing the notion that commerce and conservation are incompatible. However, reality and opportunity sometimes intrude upon conventional wisdom. This explains why an unprecedented coalition of free traders and environmentalists has joined forces to call for an end to harmful fishing subsidies worldwide as part of the World Trade Organisation’s Doha round...
The fishing industry is a vast commercial enterprise and many nations pay massive subsidies to ensure competitive advantages for their fleets. As a result, oversized flotillas are trawling the oceans and destroying the raw material that sustains the industry – fish. ... It is so distorted by government largesse that it has produced a fleet estimated to be up to 250 per cent larger than needed to fish at sustainable levels.
The depletion of the world’s fisheries is not an alarmist prophecy. The United Nations ... estimates that more than 75 per cent of the world’s fish populations are in jeopardy. An analysis by the Oceana group of more than a hundred fisheries in the north-east Atlantic found that only one in 10 has enough fish to sustain current fishing levels. Perhaps the most startling are findings published in the journal Nature that 90 per cent of the “big fish” – tuna, marlin and swordfish – are gone. ... But if conservation is not your thing, consider that more than a billion people depend on fish as their primary source of protein and millions more on fishing as their source of income.
The multilateral trading system offers the best solution to this intractable problem. ... Time is running short in the Doha round but negotiators appear ready to step up to the challenge. In March, the first legal proposals were offered at the WTO on how to end the subsidies that fuel the world’s overfishing crisis. ... Negotiators are committed to finalising a proposal by July... The ... fisheries subsidies negotiations are more than rhetoric in a resolution. They represent the first time conservation concerns have led to the launch of a trade negotiation.
Scientists agree that we have a critical opportunity to reverse a trend that will otherwise lead to the permanent collapse of ocean fisheries within the next two decades. It is a trend driven by global government subsidies. Some have balked at the idea that the multilateral trading system can take on a challenge of this consequence. To them we ask: “If not the WTO Doha Round, then where, when and how?” ... The urgency of eliminating market-distorting and environmentally destructive fishing subsidies transcends agendas. The opportunity to deliver a huge win that will delight both commercial and conservation interests is at hand. ...
[Also posted at Environmental Economics. Other recent posts: Is Sustainable Development Feasible?, Dissention in the EPA Ranks, Forestland Conservation Deals, and Caribbean Coral Suffers Record Death.]