The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Matt Farrauto

Environmental Leaders Call on President Obama to Halt Overfishing Subsidies


Today, Mission Blue, Oceana and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) delivered a letter to President Obama calling for renewed U.S. leadership at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to end subsidies that contribute to overfishing.

In the letter, 77 prominent environmental leaders and groups, including conservation organizations Oceana and WWF, marine scientists Dr. Sylvia Earle and Dr. Daniel Pauly, and celebrity activists Leonardo DiCaprio, Chevy Chase and Darryl Hannah wrote, "The United States has played a strong role across successive administrations, to achieve new rules for fisheries subsidies at the WTO. Recent developments at the WTO may threaten to derail years of progress towards a successful result. We urge you at this important juncture to send clear and public signals that a genuine 'win' on fisheries subsidies remains a critical priority for the United States at the WTO."

Citing government subsidies as one of the most important causes of the worldwide crisis of overfishing, the letter's signatories highlighted the urgency and importance of reaching an agreement in the ongoing negotiations at the WTO.

"Now is the time to demonstrate that the WTO is an institution capable of achieving major environmental improvements for the global community. We urge you and your administration to demand a strong and timely fisheries agreement in any deal produced from the Doha Round," continued the letter.

Senator Wyden (D-OR), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness, also supports a strong agreement in the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations and is hosting a Congressional briefing today to underscore the significance of the issue.

"Addressing harmful foreign subsidies that encourage overfishing should be a top priority for the United States. The fisheries subsidies negotiations are likely the best example of how the WTO can promote sustainable development. I encourage the Obama Administration to promote freer, fairer trade in seafood by supporting a strong outcome in the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations. The United States should seize this opportunity to create new jobs while improving the health of our oceans and the seafood caught there," said Senator Wyden in a prepared statement.

Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Mark Linscott, Oceana chief scientist and senior vice president for North America Dr. Michael Hirshfield and WWF senior fellow David Schorr will also participate in the Congressional briefing with Senator Wyden.

Background Information

More than a billion people worldwide depend on fish as a key source of protein. Fishing activities support coastal communities and hundreds of millions of people who depend on fishing for all or part of their income.

But now, nearly all of the world's fish populations in every part of the world are severely depleted from overfishing. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 85 percent of the world's fisheries are fully exploited, overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion. This is the highest percentage since FAO began keeping records and is a 10 percent increase from four years ago.

Despite the precarious state of the oceans, many governments continue to provide significant subsidies that push their fleets to fish longer, harder, and farther away than otherwise would be possible. Destructive fisheries subsidies are estimated to be at least $16 billion annually, an amount equivalent to approximately 20 percent of the value of the world catch. The scope and effects of these "overfishing subsidies" are so significant that eliminating them is one of the most important and urgent actions that can be taken to protect the world's oceans.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the 153-country organization responsible for negotiating the rules governing international trade and settling related disputes. In 2001, recognizing the relevance of subsidies to trade and the importance of a healthy fishery resource to commerce and development, the WTO initiated a dedicated negotiation on fisheries subsidies as part of its Doha trade agenda.

World Wildlife Fund is the largest multinational conservation organization in the world, works in 100 countries and is supported by 1.2 million members in the United States and close to 5 million globally. WWF's unique way of working combines global reach with a foundation in science, involves action at every level from local to global, and ensures the delivery of innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature.