Saturday, June 19, 2010

UN Proposes End To Fishing Subsidies: restructuring could avoid collapse of fish stocks

Throughout many fisheries worldwide, overfishing has greatly reduced fish stocks and the response of some governments has been the subsidization of fleet expansion - more vessels, more nets and related equipment - so as to maintain or increase catch levels of a dwindling resource. Unfortunately, while this logic may make some sort of economic sense, it also most certainly hastens the inevitable collapse of the species and the industry itself - a sort of Band-Aid solution for a festering, terminal wound.

In a recent report put out by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), a drastic reduction in commercial fishing subsidies is being proposed as a way to save both the fishing industry and fish populations. The report recognizes that approximately 20 percent of the world population depends on seafood as a primary food source and that there are over 170 million people involved in commercial fishing and processing. But the report also recognized that by 2003 , 27 percent of the world's marine fisheries had collapsed. And without a major restructuring of how this marine resource is utilized, that number was bound to increase.

According to UNEP, $27 billion (USD) is being spent each year as subsidies - $8 billion of which is earmarked for managing marine protected areas, but the rest is being spent on propping up fishing fleets to maintain or expand fishing capacity when that capacity already exceeds what is sustainable. UNEP proposes a systematic restructuring in subsidies, focusing more on buying up excess vessels and retraining fishermen, thereby reducing commercial fishing to a level that would be more in line with enabling fish populations to provide their "maximum sustainable yield."

Would this allow commercial fisheries to meet increasing demand from an ever-growing human population? Probably not, but it would forestall the total elimination of one fishery after another, while alternatives are developed such as aquaculture. Others have indicated that taking any food from the sea will lead to its eventual elimination, that "sustainable fishing" is a myth. Whether that is true or not, it must be recognized that a demand for seafood will always exists and so steps must be taken to best preserve what is most certainly not an endless resource.

Some have also suggested that the economic rationale that supports farm subsidies - where, instead of expansion, productive farmland sits idle for the purpose of maintaining stable prices - may need to be re-examined in the face of the moral dilemma of developing nations in need of food staples for an undernourished populace.

You can read more about UNEP's commercial fishing subsidy proposals - part of an overall strategy for a "Greener Economy" - by clicking here (PDF download) or reading UNEP's latest press release.

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