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Comment of the Week

This week’s comment of the week is in response to last week’s open thread.  Mark Gibson gave a thoughtful response to the challenges of high seas governance, ending with the following strategy:

End fishing subsidies at the WTO. Fishing subsidies have greatly distorted the world’s fishing capacity. By one study, the global fishing fleet needs to be reduced by 25 to 30% for it to be sustainable. There are just too many boats chasing fewer and fewer fish. In some cases, such as high seas bottom trawling, there might not be any fishing at all without subsidies, because it just isn’t profitable given the massive costs. The WTO is now working on a ban of “bad” fishing subsidies and a draft plan is out there. The hold up is that it can only be approved along with all the other work items for the Doha Round. Getting agreement on all the other stuff is a very tall order.

People often forget that national governments support large fishing fleets through subsidies. The US, for instance, learned the hard way that this isn’t the best strategy when the heavily subsidized fleet of large vessels in the northeast decimated the cod population. These subsidies make it possible to continue fishing when it wouldn’t otherwise be economically feasible, just for the political stake of having a fleet on the water and therefore a vote in high seas governance. But shouldn’t countries who choose to abstain from fishing still have a voice?