Billions in fisheries subsidies finance social and ecological damage, report says
- A new report has found that the world’s top 10 fishing nations spend billions of dollars in harmful fishing subsidies not only to exploit their own national waters, but also to fish on the high seas and in the waters of other countries.
- Experts say these subsidies support fishing industries that would not be viable without financial support and contribute to overcapacity, overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
- The report also found that harmful subsidies to fisheries could also lead to food security problems in some of the world’s least developed countries where foreign fleets outnumber national fleets in terms of subsidies and catches.
- The issue of harmful fisheries subsidies will be addressed at an upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting to be held online on July 15.
A new report shows that the world’s major fishing nations are using subsidies worth billions of dollars to exploit the high seas and waters of other countries, including some of the world’s least developed countries.
Published by researchers at the University of British Columbia and supported by the NGO Oceana, the report takes an insightful look at ‘harmful fishing subsidies’, payments made by governments that allow fishing fleets to operate beyond their normal capacity. Researchers found that 10 countries – China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, United States, Thailand, Taiwan, Spain, Indonesia and Norway – spent more than $ 15.3 billion on damaging fisheries subsidies in 2018 , which probably contributed to a number of social problems. , economic and ecological issues.
About 60% ($ 9.2 billion) of those harmful fishing subsidies used by these 10 countries were spent on domestic fisheries, while 35% ($ 5.4 billion) was spent on long trips. distances to fish in the waters of 116 other countries. The remaining 5% ($ 800 million) was spent on high seas fishing, which are parts of the ocean beyond the jurisdiction of any nation.
China was found to be the main provider of harmful fishing subsidies, worth around $ 5.9 billion, followed by Japan with $ 2.1 billion and the European Union with $ 2 billion. of dollars.
Kathryn Matthews, chief scientist at Oceana, says the report shows the scale and scale of harmful fishing subsidies, which can transfer the risk of overfishing from one place to another.
“The community working on this issue has reasonably understood that there are countries that heavily subsidize their fleets,” Matthews told Mongabay. “What we didn’t know was where these fleets were going and how much money they were taking with them into the waters of other countries.”
“Race to the bottom”
Matthews says the report’s findings are concerning because they show that richer nations could deprive low-income countries of food security by exceeding their fishing activities.
According to the report, catches made by foreign vessels in the waters of low-income countries tend to exceed domestic subsidies and catches. For example, in Sierra Leone, where people depend on fish for about 80% of their protein intake of animal origin, foreign fisheries subsidies exceed domestic subsidies by 10 to 1, and foreign vessels catch twice as many fish. In an extreme example, foreign fisheries subsidies exceed domestic subsidies in the coastal nation of Guinea-Bissau by a ratio of 1,173 to 1, and foreign fleets catch three times as many fish.
These problems are compounded by the fact that host countries often lack the resources to properly manage, monitor and control fishing activities carried out by foreign fleets, according to the report. This can lead to unsustainable fishing practices and even illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which not only has social economic problems, but also ecological problems.
The report also suggests that harmful fishing subsidies can account for up to 50% of the value of the catch. “This calls into question the viability of these activities without granting such harmful levels of fishing subsidies,” the authors write.
“Subsidies are a wonderful disguise that you can put on the ocean to make the fishery seem more viable than it actually is,” Matthews said.
Daniel Pauly, a fisheries researcher at the University of British Columbia and a member of Oceana’s board of directors, but who was not directly involved in the study, says fisheries subsidies can encourage the fishing in areas where stocks are already depleted and prevent sort of recovery. For example, he says harmful fishing subsidies allow countries like China, Japan, Taiwan, Spain and France to fish for tuna competitively in the Pacific, despite declining tuna stocks.
“It’s really a race to the bottom,” Pauly told Mongabay. “These fisheries don’t have to worry about not catching enough fish to fund the operation because we, the taxpayers, fund.
These problems are exacerbated by the problems of slavery aboard fishing fleets, which acts as a form of subsidy in itself, Pauly said. However, he added that it is not considered to be such.
“If you can have… people who come on board and can’t leave, and you don’t have to pay them, you’re talking about a subsidy,” he said. “And the police not intervening and the international community tolerating this is also a form of subsidy.”
‘Push a rock up a hill’
There is also a lingering problem with governments not being transparent about how much they spend on grants and where the grants go, Matthews says.
“Without transparency, it is impossible for us to have a true understanding of the impact of these large industrial fleets which are far from the waters of their own country … if every time we have to go out and find this information. [by] digging through paper documents, digging through data in a scientific catch database, trying to estimate subsidy programs by looking at the shadow they cast, but not the truly transparent government reports himself, ”she said. “We will always push a rock up a hill. “
Although there are transparency issues in many of the major fishing countries, China’s subsidy program appears to be particularly opaque. Tabitha Mallory, CEO of consultancy firm China Ocean Institute, which was not directly involved in the new report, said information on China’s fisheries subsidies has historically been presented in so-called reports. “Directories”.
“They used to declare their grants in the Chinese directory series, and [the information] would be a little over half a page, and one of the boring things is that it was all in prose and… you had to tabulate it yourself, ”Mallory told Mongabay.
Although China’s reporting process has evolved over the years, she says it continues to lack transparency. For example, there is little information on whether fuel subsidies go to national fleets or distant water fleets, and the monitoring of subsidies tends to be left to municipalities rather than at the level. central.
“My colleague and I worked on this [new] report and we just tried to get reports from the municipal levels to fill in some gaps and estimate what [harmful fishing subsidies] would be for the whole country, and it’s just really tough – because there just isn’t a full or clear report on the grants, ”Mallory said.
This obscurity makes it difficult to verify the effectiveness of China’s new sustainability rules, she added.
“China will say that it is making all of these eco-friendly policy updates, but if it comes with this lack of transparency in terms of funding, it is really hard to see if this is correct,” he said. she declared.
“We can’t keep putting this off until later”
Experts and environmentalists say they hope the issue of harmful fishing subsidies will be properly addressed at an upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting, which takes place virtually on July 15. but little has been done to address the problem over the past 20 years, Matthews says.
In a recent Press release, the WTO said its members aim to reach an agreement at the next meeting that will reduce harmful fisheries subsidies that lead to overcapacity, overfishing and IUU fishing. Santiago Wills, Colombian Ambassador to the WTO, even presented a draft text to facilitate future discussions.
“I can sense a change in mood and we should take this opportunity to push for the conclusion of these negotiations,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, WTO director general, said in a statement. declaration.
Matthews says she hopes an agreement will actually be reached at the next meeting and that action will be taken quickly.
“There is urgency now, because even if we act now, we still have a few years to go before we start to see the full impact of the deal, and it also takes years for these overfished fisheries to come back,” Matthews said. .
“We cannot continue to postpone this,” she added. “We’ll eventually run out of track and end up falling off a cliff.”
Skerritt, DJ, & Sumaila, UR (2021). Assessment of the spatial burden of harmful fisheries subsidies. Retrieved from the Fisheries Economic Research Unit website: https://oceana.org/sites/default/files/OceanaDWF_FinalReport.pdf
Banner image caption: Chinese and Guinean crews sort fish on a Chinese fishing boat in Guinea. Image by Pierre Gleizes / Greenpeace.
Elizabeth claire alberts is a writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECalberts.
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