Sumaila, Ussif Rashid and Daniel Pauly (eds.)

Catching more bait: A bottom-up re-estimation of global fisheries subsidies.

UBC Fisheries Centre Research Report 2006, Vol. 14(6) (second version)

This report takes a fresh look at the vexing problem of subsidies, which gobble up a lot of public money into a crisis sector, keeping too many boats chasing too few fish, or is it? Let us state up-front, not all subsidies are bad. For example subsidies directed at safety at sea or getting fishing vessels out and people into alternative employment are all considered good. But the remainder go from bad to ugly under today's conditions of badly overfished resources and degraded ecosystems and coastal communities.

The habitually spirited foreword of the then Director of the Fisheries Centre, Daniel Pauly, opened like this to get readers started into this subject:

"This report on fisheries subsidies explores a theme that may seem baffling to the uninitiated: all but the fisheries industry seem to think subsidies are a bad thing, but nevertheless, “cosi fan tutte” (roughly: “they all do it”) in Amadeus Mozart’s immortal words (he also provided the music, which helped). Most opera houses, by the way, survive only because they are subsidized.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the more boat-building subsidies you gave, the more fish you got, and so it is not surprising that the young aides to managers kept on believing in this magic when, in the subsequent decades, they became managers themselves.

Things have changed, however: the resource base is too diminished for all these fishing boats to turn a profit, and the subsidies, far from having the effect they had earlier, now contribute to overfishing, i.e., more fish being caught than should be, as explained in the second chapter of this report. This is not intuitive, and most managers and policy makers either cannot wrap their heads around it, or do not act on it.

Another reason for inaction is that, in most countries, fisheries subsidies are, in budget terms, part of agricultural subsidies… and these are a nightmare that few persons awake would want to get into.

As a result, subsidies not only stay – particularly in Europe and the East Asia – but grow inexorably, and are now conservatively estimated between US$30-34 billion per year for the period from 1995 to 2005. This is nearly double the figure US$14-20 billion accepted until now, which was issued by the World Bank.

This discrepancy is due to this report explicitly accounting for countries which do not quantify the subsidies they give to (or receive for) their fisheries. Thus, in official statistics (e.g., those of the World Bank), they are treated as having zero subsidies. The ‘missing data = 0 problem’ also occurs in the official fishing catch statistics of many maritime countries, and is now known to have misinformed policy-making in numerous instances...."

The report contains the following chapters:

Chapter 1: The nature and magnitude of global non-fuel fisheries subsidies

                Khan, A. S., U.R. Sumaila, R. Watson, G. Munro and D. Pauly
Chapter 2: Fuel subsidies to global fisheries
                Sumaila, U.R., L. Teh, R. Watson, P. Tyedmers and D. Pauly
Chapter 3: Subsidies to high seas bottom trawl fleets
                Sumaila, U.R., A. Khan, L. Teh, R. Watson, P. Tyedmers and D. Pauly
Chapter 4: Overseas development assistance to fisheries as a subsidy
                Alder, J., H. Fox and M. Jorge
Chapter 5: A historical account of Brazilian policy on fisheries subsidies
                Abdallah, P.R. and U.R. Sumaila
APPENDIX 1: Regional fisheries subsidy estimates by categories

APPENDIX 2: Global compendium of national fisheries subsidy programs