A new study revealed that the governments who pledged to stop overfishing are in fact encouraging it for profit, putting the world's fish stocks at risk.
Global fish stocks are rapidly decreasing despite the pledge from major nations to dial their fishing activities back as well as implement measures to stop illegal trawling and other such criminal enterprises. The problem is these same nations have actually increased government subsidies that ultimately encourage overfishing across the world. And the issues are showing.
What's the problem, exactly?
Millions of people across the world rely on fish for their survival, so running out of this precious resource would clearly be a catastrophe—not to mention that we're exploiting living beings for our insatiable pleasure, but that's a different discussion.
Given the scale of the issue, the University of British Columbia conducted a vast survey of 152 countries, partly funded by the Pew Charitable Trust. The research showed that in 2018 alone, ocean-faring nations spent over $20 billion on harmful subsidies (meaning subsidies that promote overfishing and illegal fishing where it would otherwise not be profitable, whether directly or indirectly.)
Among the most prominent type of harmful subsidies are fuel ones, which allow industrial fishing ships to reach the farthest waters on the planet—waters where they should not be fishing in the first place.
China alone has increased harmful subsidies by 105% over the last ten years, according to the study. And that's actually a pretty terrible thing, since China has the largest fishing fleet in the world. But that's not all.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the rate at which we harvest over 30% of commercial fish stocks is utterly unsustainable, with 90% of them being fully exploited. Many distinct populations have significantly decreased in size in the last couple of decades, some to alarming levels, like the Pacific bluefin tuna population (which has plummeted 97%.) In other words, we're literally running out of fish.
And as traditional fishing areas become depleted, ocean-faring countries start sending their vessels farther and farther out to get their stock from international waters—or from other nation's reserves. And this requires government funds in the form of fuel subsidies, for instance (among others).
So, what can be done?
Negotiations at the World Trade Organization will resume this week in Geneva, Switzerland, where several nations will need to come to an agreement to halt the exploitation of the world's fish. As the technical and logistical aspects have become clear by now, all that is needed is the political will to do something, according to policy experts.
"The period from 2019 to 2020 is critical in determining whether the World Trade Organization (WTO), tasked with eliminating capacity-enhancing fisheries subsidies, can deliver to the world an agreement that will discipline subsidies that lead to overfishing," reads the study.
Regarding the negotiations, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo issued the following statement:
“There is no question that many fish stocks are being depleted and that unfettered state funding for fishing can harm our oceans. With the end-2019 deadline fast approaching, the negotiations are intensifying. WTO members will need to set aside their differences and find compromises to bring about a deal. The time to act is now.”
So, throughout the coming weeks and as the negotiations play out, it's important to keep in mind that "the bulk of harmful ‘capacity-enhancing’ subsidies, particularly those for fossil fuels, have actually increased as a proportion of total subsidies," according to the research. "As such, for the benefit of marine ecosystems, and current and future generations of people, all hands must be on deck in helping the WTO reach a meaningful agreement to discipline subsidies that lead to overcapacity and overfishing."
We can only hope politicians heed the science community and do what is right for the world.
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