Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Working with WTO to End Overfishing

This past May Mission Blue, The World Wildlife Fund and Oceana delivered a letter to president Obama calling for the US to renew its leadership role at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and to end government subsidies, which contribute to overfishing. Though no new agreement came out of May’s WTO Doha meeting, the importance of change to the faulty practice of fishing subsidies remains imperative.

With the Antarctic’s threatened krill, Chilean Sea Bass and other over-fished populations, we at ASOC know too well that the Southern Ocean has a great stake in fishery subsidies.

What are fishery subsidies? According to the UNFAO, “Fisheries subsidies are government actions or inactions that are specific to the fisheries industry and that modifies - by increasing or decreasing - the potential profits by the industry in the short or long-term.” The bulk of government action works to increase these potential profits.

What’s wrong with this? As the majority of the world’s commercially viable fish stocks grow more and more rare, the richest nations are still paying billions of dollars to keep fishing industries alive through these fishery subsidies. With a global commercial fishing fleet that is more than double what is needed to sustainably fish the oceans, a significant reduction in harmful fishery subsidies is absolutely necessary.

The solution to the fishing crisis requires better management of all fisheries, using measures such as setting reasonable catch limits as well as bans - or severe limits on – the use of destructive catch gear. While fisheries subsidies may promote the growth of an industry that needs to shrink, they can also help fishermen adapt to bans on long-lines or driftnets which collect a great deal of bycatch, or they can help promote small scale sustainable fishing practices as well as other more environmentally friendly fishing techniques. The key is to promote the subsidies that have a positive environmental effect while reducing the negative.

While the Doha talks have made little progress in finding a viable solution, it remains important that we continue to press the WTO to promote more sustainable fishing practices, through more responsible subsidies. Leaders recognize that the WTO needs tocome to some sort of an agreement on this, soon. As fish populations continue to dwindle, the issue of fishery subsidies grows more important and eventually there will be change. Thus we must continue to press Obama and the US to remain a leader in achieving a more responsibly subsidized global fishing industry.

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