Fuel Subsidies Simply Prop Up Destructive Industrial Fishing, Hurt Small-Scale Fishermen
Fishermen in Kerala, India photo: Ron Layters
Most of the time when the issue of fishing comes up on TreeHugger it's in the context of some new government fishing ban, or what consumers can do to make sure the seafood they purchase is from a sustainable fishery. While these efforts are good, according to a new report in Conservation Biology the real issue which needs to be addressed if global fisheries are to be made sustainable is working to reduce the amount of subsidies industrial fishing receives.
For the purpose of this study, small-scale refers to operations which use boats 15 meters or shorter, use less energy-intensive fishing gear (in general), and operate close to shore.Small-Scale Fishing Uses Less Energy to Catch Same Amount of FishComparing small versus large scale fishing, the report says that large-scale fishing practices generally use destructive fishing techniques (such as bottom trawling), discard 8-20 million tonnes of unwanted fish annually and, ultimately, mostly target fish not intended for human consumption but instead for processing into fishmeal used as livestock feed.
In comparison small-scale fisheries generally use more benign fishing methods and can target different fish species based on local availability. Also in favor of small-scale fisheries is that they create more jobs, employing 25 times the number of people as large-scale fishing, and use 75% less fuel to catch the same amount of edible fish as industrial fishing.
Fuel Subsidies Make Industrial Fishing ViableThe prime reason which industrial is viable, according to this report, is that government subsidies--in particular fuel subsidies totaling globally some $6.3 billion annually--tilt the playing field in favor of large-scale fishing. Given that small-scale fisheries catch four times as many fish per liter of fuel consumed as do large-scale fisheries, if these fuel subsidies were removed it "would render the 200-strong fleet of high-seas bottom trawlers unprofitable."
Additional annual subsidies detailed in the report, which favor large-scale fisheries more than small-scale, are $8 billion in fishing port construction and renovation, $5.8 million in fisheries management programs and services, $1.9 in boat construction and renovation, $1 million in fishing access agreements, and $0.7 million in tax exemptions.
Lack of Political Clout Means Small Voices Go UnheardDescribing why we don't hear more about fishing subsidies disadvantaging small-scale fishermen, report co-author Jennifer Jacquet was quoted in ENN as saying,
It's an unfair disadvantage that in any other industry would have people up in arms, but small-scale fishers are often in developing countries and have very little political influence.
Without subsidies, most large-scale fishing operations will be economically un-viable. Small scale fishers will have a better chance of surviving in local markets, and global fish stocks will have an opportunity to rebound.
If supporting small-scale sustainable fisheries alone isn't enough for you to get behind lowering fuel subsidies, perhaps a recent report from the UN which says that scrapping fuel subsidies will help slow climate change and also boost the world economy might do it.
If you don't already subscribe, you can pay an access fee to read the original journal article: Funding Priorities: Big Barriers to Small-Scale Fisheries
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