CHINA, Europe, Japan and the United States which pay an estimated 600 million US dollars (over 990bn/-) per annum to commercial fishing vessels on the world oceans should stop the malpractice.
A Global Ocean Commission report for 2014 said such countries are encouraging overfishing and violating World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. "High seas-fishing is carried out by 10 nations that rely heavily on subsidies to remain profitable.
Fuel subsidies are the biggest component at 15-30 per cent. Developed countries grant 70 per cent of fishing subsidies, with Japan, China, the EU and the US the highest spenders," the GOC report said.
The report further noted that combined engine power of the global fleet has grown ten-fold since the 1950s, although stock declines have led to smaller catches in recent years.
"Overall, too many vessels, using too much engine power, are competing for increasingly exploited stocks, creating a race to the bottom and increasing the imperative to fish illegally," the report warned.
Such acts of overfishing backed by subsidies also disadvantage small-scale artisanal fishers and consumers. Industrial fishing gets the biggest share of the subsidies and the products of these subsidised high seas industrial fisheries constitute unfair competition, distorting the seafood market by artificially lowering the price of the fish caught in the high seas, the report noted.
"WTO member states are under an obligation to report on specific subsidies. However, they do not all report on the details of their fisheries subsidies.
The Commission believes that this paradox should be urgently resolved," Oxford, UK based GOC said in the report released last week.
It further noted that the enforcement of the existing WTO obligation should be expedited without delay, arguing that all WTO members should disclose to the organisation and to each other, the type and scope of subsidies that they provide to the fisheries sector, without prejudice to the outcome of further negotiations on fisheries subsidies within the organisation.
It named the harmful subsidies which are prohibited by WTO as; those for vessel construction, repair and modification, subsidies for operating costs of vessels and in or nearport processing, fuel subsidies or certain infrastructures including fish landing and storage facilities and those for fishers' income support.
'It is imperative to address the main drivers of fishing vessel overcapacity, in particular, the issue of capacity-enhancing subsidies.
"The Commission asks WTO member states to urgently adopt a three-step approach to deal with this problem and so remove the negative financial incentives that maintain a global fishing fleet which has too many boats chasing an ever diminishing supply of fish."
The high seas fleets which made a staggering 150 million US dollars profit in 2000, would not be profitable without being subsidised, the GOC report noted. "Without subsidies, the high seas fleets wouldn't make a profit.
Citizens of countries providing subsidies to their high seas fleets pay twice for their fish as tax payers and as consumers," the report noted, urging the UN General Assembly to adopt a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) with detailed and specific targets and indicators to position the ocean as a key element of the post-2015 development agenda.