This morning, a group of environmental leaders coordinated by Mission Blue, Oceana and WWF submitted a letter to President Obama urging him to demand the World Trade Organization (the only international body dealing with the rules of trade between nations) to produce an international agreement to eliminate subsidies that contribute to overfishing. Why is this something that should get the President’s attention? And why should we care?
These subsidies are mostly monetary aid that the government gives to the fishing industry to modify (typically to increase) their potential profits. If these subsidies helped improve fishing so that consumers could enjoy a sustainable source of seafood, they would be welcome. However, about $16 billion (60% of all subsidies to fishing globally) are destined to activities that perpetuate overfishing (such as the construction of new vessels and fuel subsidies).
We should care because the public coffers (that is, all of us tax payers) pay for these “bad” subsidies that contribute to depletion of fish stocks, which is not helping fishermen in the long term either. We all pay 3 times for the fish we eat: with our taxes (that go to subsidies without most of us knowing), at the market or restaurant (when we buy seafood), and sometime in the future (the environmental cost of removing fish and shellfish from the sea).
President Obama should care because other countries and regions – such as Europe – subsidize their fleets heavily, and this creates unfair competition for US fishermen (2 million jobs in commercial and recreational fishing in the US). If the US is serious about free and fair trade, the President ought to push the World Trade Organization to produce an agreement for the elimination of destructive fishing subsidies at the Doha Round. The elimination of destructive fishing subsidies will do a lot to bring the fish back – with everything that comes with them, from healthy oceans to jobs.