Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine


What the Oceans Need
How strategic trade policy can help end global overfishing

I recently had the pleasure and good fortune to meet with several ambassadors and delegations to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, Switzerland. I was there in part to thank them for their work and leadership, but also to discuss how we could most effectively address the issue of the government subsidies that lead to overfi shing. As an actor, I have played roles in science fi ction and fantasy fi lms, but I must tell you that what is happening to our oceans is far from being science fi ction. It is a cold, hard fact. Governments are paying their commercial fi shing fl eets to plunder our oceans and the consequences of chasing down every last fi sh are cataclysmic. A little background: A team of leading international scientists investigating the state of the world’s fi sheries found that 29 percent have collapsed from overfi shing. Even more alarming, this same study projects that all of the world’s commercial fi sheries could collapse within decades if current trends continue. Another study published in the scientifi c journal Nature concluded that 90 percent of all the “big” fi sh – tuna, marlin and shark – are already gone. Even the notoriously cautious U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization states that 75 percent of the world’s fi sheries are now overexploited, fully exploited, signifi cantly depleted or recovering. Our oceans are simply being fi shed beyond their limits. A key culprit in this destructive trend is the estimated $20 billion in subsidies that many of the world’s governments give to global fi shing fl eets each year. These subsidies outfi t and sustain fishing operations that could otherwise not afford to fish as long, hard or far away as they do. The bottom line is that subsidies have produced a global fi shing armada with many times the fishing power needed to fi sh at sustainable levels. In short, we are fi shing our oceans to death. Why is this important? Quite simply, we are talking about food security, economic survival and the health of our planet — a crisis that demands a response from all reasonable people. The WTO is currently negotiating new international trade rules to control fi sheries subsidies as part of its Doha round. These historic negotiations represent the fi rst time that environmental concerns have led to the launch of a specifi c trade negotiation. But the results of these negotiations go far beyond trade. Success would help ensure the long-term sustainability of the world’s fi sheries and the health of the oceans’ ecosystems. The WTO took a tremendous step forward in the negotiations when it produced the first draft agreement on fisheries subsidies in late November 2007. The draft agreement contains a strong prohibition on capacity enhancing subsidies and provides for improved fisheries management. The world needs such an agreement. That’s why I recently met with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, who reiterated the Bush Administration’s commitment to ensure that fi sheries subsidies are part of any final WTO agreement. We need leadership and a continued commitment from the United States to produce a strong WTO agreement on fi sheries subsidies because the health of our oceans depends on it. There are no good reasons not to, and a world of reasons to be supportive.

their commercial fishing fleets to plunder our oceans.



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