Scaling Back Subsidies

Some of my best, earliest memories are walking with my dad on the docks near my home in Galveston, Texas. We would go as the sun set, watching the shrimp trawlers and fishing boats come into the harbor, bringing in their catch of flounder, snapper, grouper, and sometimes even sailfish. Our city’s future is inextricably tied with the fishing industry, employing long-time resident and recent immigrants, entertaining sportsmen, and sustaining a thriving tourism sector.

Today however, Galveston’s future and the future of thousands of fishing-dependent communities across the globe is at risk as fishing stocks have collapsed and populations have plummeted in nearly every stretch of the ocean. Between 1953 and 2003, the world’s fishing stocks have declined by a gut-wrenching 90% — with calamitous and far-reaching effects for delicate ocean ecosystems and for the towns and cities that rely on them.


Over the past few decades, in response to this crisis, the United States has put in place robust laws, like the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, to try to protect our dwindling fishing stocks and ensure the livelihoods of fishermen, like the ones I grew up with. Unfortunately, the world still lacks sufficient protections to ensure responsible care of their ocean resources, allowing overfishing and other harmful practices. We must take stronger steps to manage our fishing resources on an international scale.

In fact, the World Wildlife Fund projects that unless current fishing practices change, stocks of ALL species currently fished for food will collapse by 2048. The catastrophic effects on the millions of people in fishing communities around the globe who rely on fishing for sustenance cannot be overstated. Most troublingly, many of the countries where these practices are prevalent are home to communities most reliant on the ocean for food and most vulnerable to shocks in the food supply, like Vietnam and Malaysia.

That’s where robust, enforceable agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership can have a marked, immediate impact on staving off a looming environmental disaster. The signatory countries to the TPP make up more than a quarter of world trade in seafood products, and account for four of the top fifteen fish producers. It includes developing countries like Vietnam, one of the top fishery producers in the region, but also countries like Japan, which operates the world’s largest fishing fleet — meaning that this deal will have immediate and far-reaching impacts on reforming unsustainable fishing methods.

This includes reforming harmful subsidies, including those benefiting fish smugglers and those operating outside the law — extending accountability to the black market fishing sector for the first time. These subsidies account for 30-40% of revenue, artificially propping up the industry and encouraging overfishing. Therefore ending these subsidies and making the commitment enforceable through the TPP dispute settlement process with the weight of trade sanctions will be a significant tool in promoting sustainable practices. The TPP also contains provisions to reduce the bycatch of non-target species in fishing and the capture of juveniles, a major contributor to population collapse in world fisheries, while also promoting the rehabilitation of already overfished stocks. And the TPP takes the lead in setting up a framework for an international fishing management system that experts agree is necessary for a comprehensive solution to the problem of overfishing.

As the world races headlong into a future where the effects of climate change and environmental degradation are increasingly unavoidable, stringent protections for our planet’s most vulnerable resources will become more important than ever before.

The TPP has the potential to rewrite how the world manages its ocean resources. Billions of people around the world rely on our oceans, yet so far we have been slow to act to ensure that they will be there for our future generations. With the TPP, we have a chance to change that.