Fisheries subsidies have grown, and grown worse

A must-read report by Ussif Rashid Sumaila and Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia's Fisheries Center, entitled "Catching More Bait: A Bottom-up Re-estimation of Global Fisheries Subsidies," estimated "conservatively" that governments give fishing fleets between US$30–34 billion per year, nearly double the prevailing World Bank estimate of US$14–20 billion.

The report includes a few very important insights. First, reforming fisheries subsidies is made difficult partly by ties to agricultural subsidies. As the report notes, all but the fisheries industry seem to think subsidies are a bad thing--a situation mirrored in the discussion of the new Farm Bill in the United States.

Second, part of the reason that the attitude towards subsidies has changed is that their effects have changed. As the report notes, "In the 1950s and 1960s, the more boat-building subsidies you gave, the more fish you got." But as fish populations began to decline and suffer, "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."

Finally, the report differentiates between subsidy types, labeling subsidies for fisheries surveillance and conservation as "good," and subsidies for boat building and fuel and price supports as "bad."