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?



  1. Mark Gibson · April 25, 2011

    Thanks, guys! Also, if you want to read more, Foreign Policy Magazine recently published a good piece on this.

  2. Mark Gibson · April 25, 2011

    Hmm, I think I need to work on my html coding. That was supposed to have “Foreign Policy Magazine” with the hyperlink.

  3. Alan Dove · April 25, 2011

    Is the desire for a vote in high seas governance really the main driver of fishing subsidies? At least in some cases, I was under the impression that the main problem was politicians whose jobs depend on protecting their constituents’ unsustainable fishing businesses. In other words, it’s the same motivation that produces our insane agricultural subsidies.

    • Bluegrass Blue Crab · April 25, 2011

      That’s a large part of the story if a fishery already exists, and I’m not dismissing that as a huge part of the issue. But subsidies also happen in areas where there aren’t existing fisher constituents. Industrial scale fishing fleets have been created (like in Alaska, for instance) by countries who want a piece of a developing/underdeveloped fishing pie, only to realize later that industrial fishing is unsustainable for that fishery.

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