Study: Subsidies lead to unsustainable fishing

Published on
September 13, 2010

Fisheries contribute between USD 225 billion and USD 240 billion to the global economy, nearly three times the landed value, according to a new series of four studies.

Conducted by the University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre in Vancouver, the research also found that the economic value of fisheries is heightened in developed countries. For example, in the United States, each U.S. dollar caught in fish equates to about USD 3, after researchers take the value-added benefits of fisheries throughout the supply chain into account.

Total direct, indirect and induced impacts from China and Japan account for more than 60 percent of fisheries-related economic activity in Asia and 35 percent globally. In addition, wild fisheries also generate more than USD 63 billion in household incomes annually worldwide. The researchers looked at wild, ocean fisheries only, not freshwater and farmed fish species.

Demonstrating the economic value of fisheries is essential to preserving fishing stocks, said Rashid Sumaila, associate professor and director of the Fisheries Centre.

“There are various reasons why different parts of the population push for sustainability of the oceans, including food security and dollars. Depleting resources is simply bad business,” said Sumaila.

The research team was hired by the Pew Environment Group to find out how overfishing and government subsidies in certain countries deplete fishing stocks. Global catch losses from overfishing account for between 7 and 36 percent of the actual fish tonnage landed annually, the economists determined. The value lost from overfishing ranges from USD 6.4 billion to USD 36 billion annually.

Global subsidies totaled USD 27 million in 2003, 60 percent of which was allocated to “capacity-enhancing” subsidies such as boat construction and fuel. The capacity-enhancing subsidies “encourage fisheries to bring in larger catches, contributing to unsustainable fishing practices over the long term,”  according to the researchers.

Japan spent the most — USD 4.6 billion — on fishing subsidies in 2003, while China spent USD 4.1 billion. The European Union provided USD 2.7 billion on subsidies, the United States allocated USD 1.8 billion and Russia dished out USD 1.5 billion.

In addition, if they had not been overfished, global fisheries could also have prevented malnourishment for nearly 20 million people globally.

“Whether you are looking at fish as a financial resource or a source of protein, our research shows that the benefits of healthy, robust fisheries have enormous value far beyond the fishing dock,” said Sumaila.

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