Billions in Taxpayer Subsidies Fund Overfishing of the Planet

Search form

Billions in Taxpayer Subsidies Fund Overfishing of the Planet

Billions in Taxpayer Subsidies Fund Overfishing of the Planet
Fri, 11/16/2012 - by Christopher Pala
This article originally appeared on Inter Press Service

Photo: Christopher Pala

Calls are mounting for the world’s big fishing powers to stop subsidizing international fleets that use destructive methods like bottom trawling in foreign coastal waters, drastically reducing the catch of local artisanal fishers who use nets and fishing lines.

Such subsidies total $27 billion a year, with nearly two-thirds coming from China, Taiwan and Korea along with Europe, Japan and the United States, according to a University of British Columbia study.

Most go to building the ever-more-efficient ships that are required to catch ever-dwindling populations of fish around the world, with yet more subsidies going to offset their growing consumption of fuel as they venture ever farther and deeper to fill their holds.

The result, says Dr. Rashid Sumaila, lead author of the UBC study, is that taxpayers are funding the depletion of the world’s fish populations and the impoverishment of coastal communities abroad.

“A lot of the fish eaten in Europe, the United States and Japan comes from other countries, mostly poor ones,” because the developed countries long ago overexploited their own waters, he told IPS in a telephone interview.

“The more their fleets fish out an area, the harder it gets to keep fishing there and the more they ask for subsidies,” he added. “It’s crazy.”

A senior United Nations official agrees, charging last week that developed countries, which eat three times as much fish per capita as poor ones, are are depleting the oceans and depriving coastal fishermen in developing countries of their livelihood and coastal populations of food.

“Without rapid action” to stop destructive practices, “fisheries will no longer be able to play a critical role in securing the right to food of millions,” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, said.

Calling for an end to the subsidies, he added, “Future generations will pay the price when the oceans run dry.”

The U.N. report, entitled “Fisheries and the Right to Food,“ notes that international conventions ranging from the Law of Sea to the World Trade Organization have long called for the ban of subsidies to fleets that fish unsustainably, as most today do.

Meanwhile, the money the industrial fleets pay developing countries to fish in their waters goes to often corrupt governments, while the impact is felt by poor coastal communities.

Not only are most industrialized ships uneconomical if they aren’t subsidized, they also provide far fewer jobs: 200 for every 1,000 tons of fish caught, versus 2,400 jobs for 1,000 tons caught with artisanal methods using small boats, according to another study cited in the U.N. report.

Globally, that translates to a half-million industrial fishermen catching 30 million tons of edible fish, discarding at sea another 15 million tons, and burning 37 million tons of fuel.

The artisanal fisheries also catch about 30 million tons of seafood. But they employ 12 million people, discard almost nothing, use a seventh of the fuel and receive a fifth of the subsidies. Also, the nutrition they provide plays a much bigger role in the health of their local populations than the more expensive fish sold in developed countries.

Indeed, nearly all of the fish the small-scale fishers catch is eaten, while the industrial ships, in addition to the 30 million tons of edible fish they take, also haul out another 35 million tons of everything from other fish to plankton for transformation into oils or fish meal, which are used for fertilizer and feed.

The result: many of the non-food fish that the edible fish depend on have disappeared, along with vast amounts of plankton, the base of the food chain.

While on average 95 percent of rice and 80 percent of wheat are consumed in the country in which they were grown, only 60 percent of the world’s fish is sold in the country in which it was caught, according to the report.

The rest is exported. The industrial fleets pay governments anywhere from two percent (Guinea Bissau) to six percent (the Pacific islands in whose waters half the world’s tuna is caught) for the right to fish in their waters. In comparison, governments receive 30 to 70 percent of the value of oil extracted from their land from the foreign oil companies that extract it.

Some countries have fought back. In May, Senegal’s 50,000 artisanal fishermen, angry that their catch was reduced by destructive European trawler fleets and backed by NGOs like Greenpeace, forced a new government to cancel fishing licenses to foreign fleets granted by the previous one.

Namibia, for its part, has largely banned foreign fleets from its rich waters since it became independent in 1990 and has developed its own industrial fishery.

The Maldives, in the Indian Ocean, have closed its tuna fishery to foreign industrial fleets in favor of small-scale pole-and-line vessels, which yield better-quality fish.

The U.N. report called on coastal governments to negotiate new agreements with foreign fishing fleets that would keep those away from the coasts so the sea bottoms can heal while small-scale fisheries recover.

“These resources must be turned away from over-exploitation and toward the benefit of local communities,” de Schutter said.

Article Tabs

Robert Mundell, euro policies, Greek austerity

The idea that the euro has "failed" is dangerously naive – the euro is doing exactly what its progenitor, and the wealthy 1%-ers who adopted it, predicted and planned for it to do.

Congress’s tax committees announced an agreement Thursday to speed through a bill to give President Barack Obama the Trans-Pacific Partnership fast-track authority.

A mobilization and sit-in by students, alumni and other activists – including a civil disobedience blockade of Massachusetts Hall, housing the office of President Faust – seeks to spur America's elite university to divest from fossil fuels.

Golden Dawn, Greek austerity, anti-austerity protests, Syriza Party, Pavlos Fyssas, Golden Dawn violence, scapegoats

Continued austerity policies, especially in Europe’s poorer countries, could leave those left behind looking for scapegoats – a situation that history teaches us never ends well.

wine industry, California drought, California water war, California water crisis

The crisis for many in northern California comes down to this: we're exporting our precious water in the form of profitable wine.

Own the Change, worker co-ops, worker-owned businesses, GRITtv, Toolbox for Education and Social Action, TESA, union co-ops, Cooperative Enterprise Development, US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives

From Detroit to Madison to New York City, labor organizers, civic leader and other activists are getting behind worker co-ops in a big way.

Posted 6 days 14 hours ago
Public Land for Housing project, San Francisco gentrification, wealth inequality, income inequality, wealth gap, soaring rents

The angst that is swelling throughout San Francisco and pushing outward to other Bay Area cities is not because people are resisting change – the angst is over the largest growing inequality gap in the country.

Posted 6 days 13 hours ago
wealth inequality, income inequality, wealth gap, Koch brothers, money in politics

Our democracy is directly threatened when the rich buy off politicians – but no less dangerous is the quieter, more insidious buy-off of institutions democracy depends on to research, investigate, expose and mobilize action against big money.

Posted 6 days 14 hours ago
Eleanor Goldfield, Act Out!, California drought, Baltimore water shut-off

This week we dive into the shallow waters of California’s extreme drought, and what you can do about it (hint: it’s not just about cutting back on personal hygiene).

Posted 2 days 18 hours ago
student debt, student loans, college loans, Strike Debt, Corinthian Colleges, student debt strike, debt resistance, Shays' Rebellion, sharecropping, Southern Tenant Farmers Union

The student debt strike isn't the first time debt resistance movements have taken hold across the U.S. – and the lessons we learn from prior movements can well be applied to today.

Posted 3 days 9 hours ago
Eleanor Goldfield, Act Out!, California drought, Baltimore water shut-off

This week we dive into the shallow waters of California’s extreme drought, and what you can do about it (hint: it’s not just about cutting back on personal hygiene).

low wage workers, $15/hour minimum wage, fastfood worker strikes

Nearly 1,000 fast-food workers, Walmart employees and union members in Los Angeles joined nationwide protests Wednesday calling for a $15 minimum wage.

I'm not sure we will win if we don't begin. So I realign my mind to the sky and occupy visions.

low wage workers, fastfood worker strikes, Fight for 15, Walmart workers, Black Lives Matter, SEIU, $15/hour minimum wage, minimum wage movement

In the wave of actions demanding higher wages on April 15, organizers say more than 60,000 people will join strikes and protests in 200 cities nationwide – with support actions in dozens of other countries.

raising the minimum wage, $15 an hour minimum wage, low wage workers, Walmart worker strikes, SNAP, food stamps

The proposed legislation would subject for-profit companies with 500 or more employees to a fine for every employee who is paid less than $15 an hour, essentially forcing those companies to raise wages or pay if they refuse.

Sign Up