Overfishing, Rising Fuel Costs, and Subsidies

As Josh just mentioned, overfishing is an underestimated problem. Furthermore, new research from UBC Fisheries Centre economist Rashid Sumaila (and one of my esteemed committee-members!) shows that rising fuel costs may not keep fishers, big or small, off the water, to the extent that governments continue to subsidize fuel costs (which account for 60 percent the cost of fishing).

At present, fuel subsidies account for roughly 20 percent of the $34 billion in annual fisheries subsidies. These subsidies are taxpayer monies redirected to fishermen often in the form of grants, loans, tax preferences, and income support programs. But fuel subsidies might get even bigger as governments around the world (e.g., France, Japan, Algeria, the Philippines) cave into fisher protests demands for handouts.

"Fishermen are a powerful lobby and there is no real counter-lobby, so when they step into the political arena they usually win," said Sumaila. "But most people don't receive a subsidy to get to work--so why should fishermen?"

The researchers found that the vast majority of fuel subsidies occur in developed nations. Of the 86 countries analyzed, developed nations subsidized fuel by around $5 billion or nearly 80 percent of the global total. Developing countries, which were more numerous, accounted for only a little more than 20 percent of the global fuel subsidies.

"Profit is one of the biggest motivators in overfishing and profits are kept artificially high with government handouts," says Sumaila. "People might talk about the freedom of the seas but certainly the oceans are not subject to free markets."

Rather than wasting public money on fossil fuels and overfishing, Sumaila suggests we should use to it retrain fishers for other jobs. Pareto optimal!

The findings will be published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science in September.

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I eat a lot of fish because I like it. I can't switch to steak very much, even though much cheaper, because of medical reasons. If governments should stop subsidizing fishing, wouldn't I have to eat a lot more steak? I just want to make the point that any change in how we conduct our business will have costs associated. I'm all for stopping overfishing, but, in the short term, will I have to eat more steak than is good for me?

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 16 Jul 2008 #permalink

Jim, I am personally unsure why you would "have" to eat more steak if there weren't as much fish. What's wrong with chicken? Eggs? Vegetarianism? Eating more sustainable seafoods, like local mussels?

Cripes, this just looks like an "I like doing this and don't want to stop because it would mean not doing something I like" argument, which is, um, hardly a good argument. Besides which, could I just point out that many major world fisheries are only a few years away from catastrophic collapse anyway, so you have a choice of making a change now, to relieve just a little of the demand on these fisheries, or later when it's simply not available any more and there is no going back.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 17 Jul 2008 #permalink