Call to end fishing fuel subsidies –

Call to end fishing fuel subsidies Published:  20 February, 2007

Dr Rashid Sumaila

FUEL subsidies to fishing fleets should be scrapped if vulnerable species are to avoid being plundered, a group of international scientists have claimed.

They told a conference in San Francisco that because many types of fish are declining in shallow coastal waters across the world, trawlers are moving to deeper international waters.

And they suggest that more than £80-million was paid to trawler fleets, promoting overfishing of unviable resources. In particular danger were slow-growing deep-sea fish and coral species caught by bottom trawling, they argued. The 2006 UN talks failed to implement a ban on the method, which uses heavy nets and crushing rollers on the sea floor.

The research has come from a group of Canadian researchers who have produced a report showing that a lot of deep sea fishing was only profitable because the fuel used to power the trawlers was subsidised.

Dr Rashid Sumaila and Daniel Pauly from the University of British Columbia conceded that without the £75 million in annual subsidies paid to deep-sea fishing vessels, the industry would lose a lot of money.

Dr Sumaila added: “Eliminating global subsidies would render these fleets economically unviable and would relieve tremendous pressure on overfishing and vulnerable deep-sea eco-systems.”

Their report estimated that in the year 2000, the countries that paid out the highest deep-sea fishing fuel subsidies were Japan at £13-million, South Korea at £9-million, Russia with £8-million and Spain on £3.5-million. Researchers at the University of British Columbia estimate that without subsidies, these fleets would operate at a loss of £27-million annually.

Biologists, ecologists and economists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in San Francisco called for action to reduce incentives for fleets to operate in deeper waters.

Economist Dr Sumaila said: “Eliminating global subsidies would render these fleets economically unviable and would relieve tremendous pressure on over-fishing and vulnerable deep-sea eco-systems.

“From an ecological perspective we cannot afford to destroy the deep-sea. From an economic perspective, deep-sea fisheries cannot occur without government subsidies. And the bottom line is that current deep fisheries are not sustainable.”

In December, the United Nations general assembly reached an agreement to regulate fishing in the high seas – international waters beyond the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zones of coastal countries.

As a result of the depletion of coastal fisheries, industrial trawlers as long as 600ft and equipped with flash freezers are dragging the sea floor at depths below a mile and staying at sea for months at a time.

Many countries, including Britain and the United States, have already called for a moratorium on unregulated bottom trawl fishing on the high seas. However, Canada, Iceland, Japan and Russia resisted the call. And eleven nations have bottom-trawling fleets, with Spain’s being the largest.

Last year, conservation groups and governments from countries such as the Netherlands and Norway argued for a ban on bottom-trawling at the United Nations.

But the talks ended with only an agreement for some precautionary measures to ensure that trawlers do not cause significant damage to marine ecosystems.

A compromise was reached with high seas fishing nations promising environmental impact assessments and the closure to fishing off areas with vulnerable species, unless it can be proved fishing is doing no harm.

Robert Steneck, professor of marine science at the University of Maine, said: “The unregulated catches by these roving bandits are utterly unsustainable. With globalised markets, the economic drivers of over-fishing are physically removed and so fishermen have no stake in the natural systems they affect. While it may be a good short-term business practice to fish out stocks and move on, we now see global declines of targeted species.

He added: “The solution is not going into the deep-sea, but better managing the shallow waters where fish live fast and die young but ecosystems have a greater potential for resilience.” is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.