SOURCE: National Geographic

DATE: October 8, 2019

SNIP: As global fish stocks that feed hundreds of millions of people dwindle, nations are scrambling to finalize by year’s end an international agreement to ban government subsidies that fuel overfishing.

Yet as negotiations at the World Trade Organization resume this week in Geneva, Switzerland, new research shows that governments have actually increased financial support for fishing practices that decimate marine life, despite public pledges to curtail such handouts.

In an exhaustive survey of 152 countries, scientists at the University of British Columbia found that ocean-faring nations spent $22 billion on harmful subsidies in 2018, or 63 percent of the total amount expended to support the global fishing industry.

That’s a 6 percent rise since 2009. Harmful subsidies is a term that refers to those that promote overfishing and illegal fishing that would otherwise not be profitable, such as subsidies that underwrite fuel costs allowing industrial trawlers to sail to the farthest reaches of the planet. Fuel subsidies alone accounted for 22 percent of all fishing subsidies last year.

China, which operates the world’s largest overseas fishing fleet, has increased harmful subsidies by 105 percent over the past decade, according to the study published in Marine Policy.

The findings underscore the high stakes in Geneva as only three months remain to meet a deadline to hammer out an agreement on fisheries subsidies.

Marine scientists and policy experts say a legally binding accord to ban destructive fishing subsidies is critical as climate change disrupts marine ecosystems. A landmark United Nations report issued in September found that the maximum catch from fisheries could decline by as much as 24.1 percent by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.

A third of commercial fish stocks are being harvested at biologically unsustainable levels and 90 percent are fully exploited, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The population of Pacific bluefin tuna, for instance, has plunged 97 percent from historic levels due to rampant overfishing of one of the ocean’s most ecologically and economically valuable top predators.