September 21, 2019
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The Slimmer Skimmer: An end to harmful fisheries subsidies may be coming soon – and that could help a marine ecosystem near you

Editor’s note: The Slimmer Skimmer is a new feature to give a brief update on a topic critical to marine ecosystem management.

We are starting off our Slimmer Skimmer series with one of fisheries subsidies. The World Trade Organization is currently working to make an end-of-the year deadline (their own, as well as one for the Sustainable Development Goals) to end harmful types of fisheries subsidies. Not all fisheries subsidies are harmful – fisheries management is commonly considered a subsidy, for instance – but the harmful ones encourage overfishing and have substantial negative impacts on marine ecosystems.

Please let us know what you think of this type of feature and if there is anything that you feel we should cover in this format in the future.

So let’s start with a few basics – what are fisheries subsidies?

  • Different groups have different definitions of what constitutes a fisheries subsidy. But generally speaking, subsidies are government actions that help the fishing industry increase its income or lower its costs. Examples of fisheries subsidies include fuel subsidies,  income supports, price supports, tax credits, tax exemptions, low-interest loans, loan guarantees, regulatory exemptions, and preferential treatment. Many also consider government funding for fisheries management – including monitoring and enforcement efforts – and free access to fishing areas to be subsidies.
     
  • It is estimated that, globally, nations provide ~US$35 billion in subsidies to their fishing industries every year. Some specifics:
     

    • Fuel subsidies and fisheries management are the most common types of subsidies, comprising 22% and 20% of total subsidies respectively. For example, in 2013, China provided ~US$6.5 billion to its fishing industry, almost entirely (94%) as fuel subsidies.
       
    • Regionally, Asian countries provide the most subsidies (beneficial, harmful, and ambiguous) to their fishing industries (43% of the global total) followed by Europe (25% of the global total) and North America (16% of the global total). Japan and China are the highest subsidizing countries (20% each of the global total) with the US coming in a close third.
       
  • Fisheries subsidies are considered beneficial, harmful, or ambiguous based on whether they have positive or negative impacts on fisheries resources.
    • Beneficial subsidies promote the growth of fish stocks through conservation and the sustainable management of the resource. They include investments in fisheries science, management, and enforcement.
       
    • Harmful subsidies lead to overcapacity and the overexploitation of stocks. In general, harmful subsidies artificially increase revenues or lower costs for fishers. This puts pressure on poorly managed fish stocks and enables fishing entities to continue fishing in situations that would otherwise be unprofitable. This encourages fishers to stay in the industry and keep fishing when they would otherwise leave/stop. Harmful subsidies include fuel subsidies, boat construction programs, price supports, marketing supports, tax exemptions, and payment of fees for foreign access agreements.
       
    • Ambiguous subsidies are programs that could be harmful or beneficial (or both) depending on the details of the program and the local context. They include fisher assistance programs, vessel buyback programs, and community development programs. For example, vessel buyback programs could lead to fewer boats fishing and reduced fishing capacity as they are generally intended to do. If fishers anticipate that there will be buybacks, however, they may have incentives to overinvest in vessels, leading to an increase in fishing capacity. Another example is unemployment insurance for fishers. An unemployment program could lead to increased safety and reduced effort because fishers do not need to go out in unsafe conditions. If there is a minimum number of fishing days needed to quality for the program, however, the insurance could lead to increased effort and pressure to lengthen the fishing season.
       
  • Of the total subsidies provided to fisheries globally, US$20 billion are considered harmful, capacity-enhancing subsidies.
    • Of the major subsidizers (the EU, Japan, China, the US, and Russia), the US is the only entity where beneficial subsidies exceed harmful subsidies. (In fact, in the US, harmful and ambiguous subsidies are less than a quarter of the total subsidies to the industry).
taraa

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