United States Proposes Cuts in World Fisheries Subsidies

By Kathryn McConnell
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - The United States has sent to the World Trade Organization (WTO) a proposal to cut national fisheries subsidies the United States says contribute to overfishing.

The proposal calls for a broad ban on subsidies to fisheries that capture wild ocean stock and that contribute to the overcapacity of the world's fishing fleets and the depletion of many commercial fish stocks.

It would cover subsidies in both the construction and upkeep of fishing vessels and costs associated with allowing vessels to stay out fishing longer than would be economic, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).

Also banned would be subsidies that endanger marine ecosystems and distort trade.

Under the U.S. proposal, such activities as capturing young fish to be raised in pens or farms, or harvesting unpenned ocean fish to use as feed would be prohibited.

In an earlier paper submitted to the WTO, USTR said subsidy restrictions should help reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

"Many WTO members want an agreement on fisheries that is strong, simple and enforceable. The WTO faces an historic opportunity to resolve a serious problem," U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said March 21.

The U.S. proposal states that more work needs to be done to develop fisheries management criteria that address problems developing countries may face. It also calls for procedures to ensure that member countries receive fisheries management information of interest to them while avoiding the burden of required lengthy information submissions.

Global subsidy levels are estimated at between $10 billion and $15 billion annually, or approximately 20 percent to 25 percent of the $56 billion annual trade in fish.

The United States, which is disadvantaged by large foreign subsidy programs, has been working with Argentina, Australia, Chile, Ecuador, New Zealand, Peru and other countries to press for stronger international fisheries rules, USTR says.

The trade office says that alternative proposals from Japan, Korea, the European Union and Norway to improve the disciplines on subsidies "fall short."

"Tight fisheries subsidy disciplines are an essential complement to strong fisheries management programs to ensure that wild fish stocks remain sustainable for future generations," Schwab said.

Fisheries management includes the allocation and monitoring of fishing licenses, quotas and fish catches.


Under the U.S. proposal, governments still would be allowed to subsidize boat safety improvements, scrap vessels or otherwise make them unavailable for fishing and support the development of marine resources because those activities do not contribute to overfishing, USTR says.

The proposed cuts would not affect the replacement of fishing capacity following a natural disaster or apply to countries with small fisheries subsidy programs that do not contribute to overcapacity or overfishing, USTR says.

Also allowed would be government assistance for controlling fishing operators who "race" to fish instead of taking the time to fish selectively.

Environmental groups support tougher rules on subsidies. Such rules have been on the WTO's agenda since the current round of trade talks began in 2001.

According to Oceana, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, subsidies have helped produce a worldwide fishing fleet 250 percent larger than needed to fish sustainably.

The biggest sources of subsidies are Japan and the European Union, the group says.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 75 percent of the world's fish stocks are overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion.

"Fish populations, as well as many ocean species have declined to a fraction of their historic natural levels. … [I]f these trends continue our fisheries will be beyond recovery within the next two decades," Oceana says.