The race to fish: how fishing subsidies are emptying our oceans

Fish numbers are rapidly dwindling globally, and fishery subsidies are one of the key drivers behind this decline. In 2009, these subsidies totalled about US$35 billion, creating incentives for fishers around the world to increase their catch. But this short-term “race to fish” is jeopardising the long-term environmental, social, and economic security that fisheries offer us all.

My group at the University of British Columbia recently cast our net into the troubling waters of fishery subsidies, to see how this ship might be turned around.

Overfishing: a major issue facing our oceans

According to the recently released World Wildlife Fund Living Blue Planet Report, our oceans are in a bad state. Climate change, habitat destruction, and deep-sea mining are wreaking havoc on marine biodiversity.

But overfishing is in a league of its own.

The WWF report found that population numbers of utilised fish (those species used by humans for subsistence or commercial purposes) have fallen by half in the four decades from 1970 to 2010. A full 90% of fish stocks globally are now classified as either overexploited or fully exploited. Common seafood choices such as tuna, shrimp, whiting, and salmon are among the worst affected.

Only the very deepest parts of the oceans are currently safe from the pressure of fisheries. But how long this remains the case is yet to be seen. The demand for fish is growing the world over, driven by population growth, increased wealth, and the continued mass subsidisation of the fisheries industry.

Fishing subsidies are a global problem

The US$35 billion of subsidies that we estimate that were handed out globally in 2009 is not trivial. In fact, this figure constitutes between 30% and 40% of the landed values generated by marine fisheries worldwide.

To understand their full impact, though, it is useful to divide these subsidies into three broad categories:

  • Subsidies for management and research – considered as “good” subsidies because they generally have a positive effect on our ability to manage fishery resources sustainably for the benefit of all generations.

  • Capacity-enhancing (or harmful) subsidies – for example, construction and fuel; these tend to promote the overexploitation of fish stocks by motivating overcapacity and overfishing.

  • Ambiguous subsidies – such as those to vessel buy-back programmes and rural fisher community development, can either promote or undermine the sustainability of fish stocks depending on how they are designed and implemented.

Our research found that capacity-enhancing, or harmful subsidies made up nearly 60% of the total; fuel subsidies alone (arguably the most capacity-enhancing) constituted about 22% of the total. Ports and harbours received a 10% share.

Meanwhile, subsidies provided for fishery management totalled only 20% globally. In Australia, we estimated these “good” subsidies similarly comprised about 29% of Australia’s total subsidies to fisheries.

Developed countries provided twice the amount of subsidies as developing countries, although the latter group lands about 80% of global fish catch.

In terms of national contributions, Japan provided the highest amount of subsidies (13% of the global total), followed closely by China (12.9%) and the United States (11.7%). Australia’s fishing subsidises came in at 1.4% of the global total.

The impacts of fishing subsidies

Although the direct impact of subsidies on fish resources depends on the health of the fish stock and the strength of management in place, fisheries management is rarely completely effective. In fact, there is evidence that subsidies alone can undermine efforts to manage stocks sustainably.

Commercial fishing enterprises are profit-driven, meaning the more profits that can be made the more fishing will typically take place. Because capacity-enhancing subsidies increase profits artificially, they are stimulating this “race to fish” within the industry. This is having disastrous consequences for many fish populations.

Fishery subsidies are also having socioeconomic, distributional, and trade impacts. They not only distort the market for fish, but often disadvantage fishers who receive relatively less subsidies.

In fact, most subsidies go to the large-scale industrial fishers in developed nations, rather than small-scale developing country fishers. This represents a barrier to development in precisely the regions where it is most needed.

What can be done about harmful subsidies?

Improving transparency is a fundamental requirement for reducing harmful fishing subsidies. Transparency around these subsidies could stimulate action, not only by revealing the scale of the problem, but also by providing a solid dataset that governments can use to implement reform. An important goal is to shift from “harmful” to “good” subsidies, which would go a long way to ensuring the money remains in fishing communities.

To make real progress in curtailing capacity-enhancing subsidies, it is important to develop and implement a multi-scale multi-stakeholder approach. Efforts must be made at the national, regional, and global levels of governance. Ultimately, these efforts should lead into a multilateral agreement at the World Trade Organization.

At the local level, we need to build political will to tackle the short-sightedness of our economic and political systems.

One step towards achieving this would be to develop a cadre of local opinion leaders who understand the benefits of eliminating capacity-enhancing subsidies. Supporting these domestic advocates for change could prove to be a crucial foundation stone for the building of a sustainable global fishery industry.

The Conversation

Rashid Sumaila, Director & Professor, Fisheries Economics Research Unit, University of British Columbia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Safcol’s ready to eat meals designed for busy lives

Safcol recently launched Safcol Salmon Ready Meals, a convenient salmon snacking option for healthy eating while on the go available in Sweet onion and tomato, Italian Herb and Tomato & Spanish Paella flavours.

A range extension to Safcol’s Tuna Meals, which was launched last year, the seafood company says that their Salmon Ready Meals are “a unique innovation to the canned seafood snacking and canned salmon segment offering variety and convenience.”

According to Safcol, Australia and the western world is facing a projected obesity and diabetes epidemic if things don’t change it starts with our lifestyle choices.

Safcol Salmon Ready Meals have been created with Australian taste profiles in mind, and Australia’s number 1 fitness guy Guy Leech and his team of dieticians advised on the formulations from a health perspective.

With protein and omega 3, Safcol Salmon Ready Meals are packed in a 110g bowl, and are ready to eat on the go, with a spork and no heating required.

If we want to keep eating tuna, the world needs to learn how to share

Amid growing demand for seafood, gas and other resources drawn from the world’s oceans, and growing stresses from climate change, we examine some of the challenges and solutions for developing “the blue economy” in smarter, more sustainable ways.

Fishing for tuna, swordfish, jack mackerel, Patagonian toothfish and many other species happens far out at sea, with fisheries often crossing multiple international boundaries.

It’s a huge global industry, which provides billions of dollars a year in direct and indirect benefits to developed and developing countries, and which supplies the world’s food markets. However, overfishing and weak management are serious threats, estimated to cost the world up to US$50 billion a year in lost benefits.

If we don’t learn to better manage transnational fisheries, we risk the long-term viability of key fisheries, as extraordinary global marine biodiversity is reduced to a shadow of its former health.

Whether you care about being better custodians of the Earth’s oceans, or simply want to be sure that we’ll have plenty of good fish in the sea to catch and eat for generations to come, it’s a huge global challenge.

Fortunately, there are new solutions we should be considering – including lessons from a tuna hotspot in the Pacific.

 

Fresh fish for sale in the Solomon Islands – one of the Pacific nations trialling more sustainable tuna fishing. Quentin Hanich, Author provided

 

What we’re doing now is making things worse

Australia and other concerned nations have long warned that current levels of fishing are unsustainable and “leading inexorably to an impending crisis for global marine fisheries.”

Strong international action is required to strengthen fisheries management across multiple boundaries, reduce catches to sustainable levels, and optimise benefits to meet development goals.

But traditional management approaches can be politically contentious, especially because they often require consensus from numerous countries with conflicting interests.

 

A man walks among yellowfin tuna at a fishing port in southern Taiwan in 2010. The United Nations warned at the time that the world risked becoming fishless by 2050 unless fishing fleets are slashed and stocks allowed to recover. Pichi Chuang/Reuters

 

It’s difficult to get multiple countries to agree on restrictions on fishing activities, or controls on fishing methods, or limits to access to fishing grounds or seasons – especially when that may not seem in their short-term national interest. That can be a particular concern for developing states that depend significantly on fisheries, with few other development and resource options.

Existing negotiation and treaty processes fail to successfully resolve the political aspects of conservation negotiations, and consequently, countries often prove unwilling to compromise.

Some argue that some form of property or use right must be distributed among participants to deal with overfishing, so that industry and others have the right incentives to fish in ways that ensure long-term sustainability and economic viability.

However, applying rights-based management approaches to international fisheries requires first that everyone involved agrees on national allocations before those fishing rights trickle down to those actually catching the fish. Determining such rights through an explicit allocation process is highly fraught and take years of effort, particularly as allocation decisions generally require consensus.

While the negotiations drag on, overfishing continues – and can be exacerbated in a race-to-fish to support arguments for more generous allocations.

In order to build political support, new benefits are required that balance conservation costs. Conservation proponents point to long-term benefits from conservation reductions, but these are often too distant to motivate narrowly focused governments facing short-term electoral cycles.

Rights-based management proponents will argue incentives and higher economic efficiency, but fail to provide a political pathway to distribute these benefits between States with diverse interests.

Solutions for the trans-boundary open ocean require sustainability, value and certainty – not politics.

 

Unloading fish in the Pacific. Quentin Hanich, Author provided

 

Pacific nations show the value of scarcity

New markets are required that introduce scarcity values into conservation and turn limits into benefits. International negotiations need to move beyond traditional approaches and adopt innovative measures that create new markets.

A small group of Pacific Island nations are attempting just that, trialling different approaches to managing a crucial part of the world’s tuna supplies.

The Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu are all Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), working together to make fishing for tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (shown in the map below) more sustainable.

 

The Pacific Ocean, crowded with maritime jurisdictional claims. Q. Hanich & M. Tsamenyi (eds) Navigating Pacific Fisheries: Legal and Policy Trends in the Implementation of International Fisheries Instruments in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. University of Wollongong. Wollongong, Australia. 2009., Author provided

 

The Western and Central Pacific Ocean is home to the world’s most productive tuna fisheries, supplying global markets with skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye, and albacore tunas. These were collectively worth approximately US$5.8 billion in 2014 and accounted for 60% of the global tuna catch.

Unfortunately, like many other global fisheries, overfishing is occurring and a political stalemate is undermining conservation.

 

Quentin Hanich, Author provided

 

Pacific Island nations have long been concerned about conservation limits putting a disproportionate burden of conservation action on to small island nations, and unfairly limiting their development aspirations. There was some justification for those concerns.

Previously proposed conservation measures would have directly benefited longstanding distant water fishing fleets, through capacity or catch limits that rewarded historical capacity and catch, while locking out developing nations with no history of overfishing, and potentially no future opportunity. In effect – it would have been the reverse of the polluter pays principle.

The small group of PNA nations control access to the most productive fishing grounds. So they aare a crucial voting bloc within the Western and Central Pacific Fishing Commission – an international treaty based organisation with responsibility over the Western and Central Pacific tuna fisheries.

Given that the PNA member nations arguably own and control access to most of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean tuna fishery, any conservation and management response must be fully supported by these countries and explicitly avoid any disproportionate conservation burden.

 

 

In recent years, the PNA nations have collectively implemented a Vessel Day Scheme that limited access to their productive fisheries and introduced a scarcity value that has dramatically increased benefits. In effect, they have created a new market for ‘fishing days’ and are now trialling auctioning and pooling of days to maximise their benefits.

Next, these countries will need to bring in tighter limits to reduce catches of bigeye tuna to sustainable levels. One of the key impacts on bigeye tuna is the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) that are set at sea by large-scale purse seiners (seines are also known dragnets) to target skipjack tuna.

 

Freshly caught tuna in the Solomon Islands. Filip Milovac/WorldFish/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

 

While countries involved with distant water fishing have proposed traditional measures that would apply across-the-board restrictions at high cost to the island states, the PNA members have been trialling satellite-based monitoring of FADs at sea. They are also cooperating to begin charging additional fees for the use of FAD sets within their waters, beginning in 2016.

This will create an incentive for purse seiners to set on free swimming schools and reduce FAD sets, and mitigate conservation costs for Pacific island through the additional financial revenue from the licensing fees.

As the scheme settles in, conservation limits can then be implemented to gradually reduce the number of FADs that can be set. This will increase the scarcity value of the FAD set, while decreasing the catch of bigeye tuna to more sustainable levels, and effectively create a new market for ‘FAD sets’.

Innovative management and market solutions will be critical to the sustainable, profitable and equitable future of the global “blue economy”. In trans-boundary fisheries, the Pacific is setting the agenda.

The Conversation

Quentin Hanich is Associate Professor at University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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