125 scientists from 27 countries call for end to commercial overfishing subsidies

May 24, 2007 Director-General Pascal Lamy World Trade Organization Centre William Rappard Rue de Lausanne 154 CH-1211 Geneva 21 Switzerland Dear Director-General Lamy: As members of the international science community, we write to you with our grave concern about the state of the world’s oceans. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has an unprecedented and unequalled opportunity to contribute to stopping global overfishing by significantly reducing worldwide subsidies to the fishing sector. An ambitious outcome in the ongoing WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations is vital to the future of the world’s fisheries. It is our great hope that you will use your leadership to guide the WTO to meet this global challenge. We have spent lifetimes dedicated to studying the oceans ecosystems and marine fisheries. Many of us remember a time only decades ago when the oceans were viewed as vast storehouses of protein, able to provide food to an increasingly hungry world, food that could be provided by fishermen relying on technology and scientific management. At that time, many of us also started to observe the decline of some fish populations. But we had little idea how massive the problem would become. Modern fishing technology is capable of catching fish at amounts and in places we never would have envisioned. The majority of the world’s fish populations are in jeopardy from overfishing and if current trends continue, will be beyond recovery within decades. Fish populations, as well as many other ocean species, have been depleted to a fraction of their historical level. Many of these fish are at the top of the marine food chain, and their disappearance can trigger cascading adverse effects throughout the marine ecosystem. • Ninety percent of all the “big fish”– large-bodied sharks, tuna, marlin and swordfish – have disappeared as the result of industrialized fishing;1 • The decline of many ocean species is increasingly impairing the ocean's capacity to provide food, maintain water quality, and recover from perturbations.2 • Despite massive technological advances and increased effort, global catches of food fish have been declining for more than a decade.3 There is no longer any question – we have reached a critical state. The world’s ocean ecosystems are at a tipping point, and overfishing represents one of the greatest threats to their productivity. Yet despite the precarious state of the oceans, many governments continue to provide significant subsidies to their fishing sector. Fisheries subsidies produce such strong economic incentives to overfish that reducing them is one of the most significant actions that can be taken to combat 1 R. Myers & B. Worm, Rapid Worldwide Depletion of Predatory Fish Communities. Nature, May 15, 2003, Vol., 423, p. 280-283 2 B. Worm et al., Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystems Services. Science, November 3, 2006, Vol. 314, p. 787-790 3 R. Watson & D. Pauly, Systematic distortions in world fisheries catch trends. Nature November 29, 2001, 414, p. 534-536 Lamy/Fisheries Subsidies May 24, 2007 Page 2 global overfishing. The WTO negotiations represent the best opportunity to control worldwide subsidies to the fishing sector. According to a new study, fisheries subsidies amount to $30 to $34 billion annually, and at least $20 billion go directly towards supporting fishing capacity, such as boats, fuel, equipment, and other operating costs.4 These subsidies equal approximately 25 percent of worldwide fishing revenue. Fisheries subsidies are not only a major driver of overfishing, but promote other destructive fishing practices. For example, high seas bottom trawling, a practice so environmentallydestructive that the United Nations has called on nations to severely restrict it, would not be profitable without its large subsidies for fuel. Subsidies have also been documented to support illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing – a serious impediment to achieving sustainable fisheries. There are only decades left before the damage we have inflicted on the oceans becomes permanent. We are at a crossroads. One road leads to a world with tremendously diminished marine life. The other leads to one with oceans again teeming with abundance, where the world can rely on the oceans for protein, and enjoy its wildlife. The choices we make today will determine our path for the future. Global overfishing is one of the greatest threats to the oceans. Massive government subsidies continue to perpetuate and exacerbate this problem. The WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations are historic in their intent to address a major environmental issue in the context of trade. But the results of this negotiation go far beyond trade – they will directly impact our ability to ensure the long-term sustainability of the world’s fisheries. The WTO has in its hands the opportunity to effect one of the greatest changes towards protecting the world’s oceans. We urge you to use your skill and leadership to significantly achieve a successful outcome in the fisheries subsidies negotiations and demonstrate to the world that the WTO can play a constructive role in solving problems of global consequence. Sincerely, Dr. Daniel Pauly Dr. Boris Worm Dr. Ussif Rashid Sumaila Professor and Director Assistant Professor Associate Professor and Director Fisheries Centre of Marine Conservation Biology Fisheries Economics Research Unit University of British Columbia Biology Department Fisheries Centre Vancouver, BC, Canada Dalhousie University University of British Columbia Halifax, NS, Canada Vancouver, BC, Canada cc: Ambassador Guillermo Valles Galmes of Uruguay Chairman, WTO Negotiating Group on Rules 4 Sumaila, U. R. and D. Pauly (Editors) 2006. Catching More Bait: A Bottom-up Re-estimation of Global Fisheries Subsidies. Fisheries Centre Research Reports Vol. 14(6) 114 pp. Dr. Alex Aguilar Dept Biologia Animal Facultat de Biologia Universitat de Barcelona Barcelona, Spain Dr. Cameron Ainsworth Post Doctoral Fellow Fisheries Centre University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada Dr. Vera Alexander Professor Emeritus University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, USA Dick Allen Fishery Researcher Fisheries Dept. Graduate School University of Rhode Island Rhode Island, USA Omar A. Amir, M.Sc. Marine Mammal Research and Education Group Institute of Marine Sciences Zanzibar, Tanzania Dr. Tim Andrew Managing Director Enviro-Fish Africa (Pty) Ltd Grahamstown, South Africa Lemnuel V Aragones, Ph.D. Associate Professor Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines Randall Arauz President, Programa Restauración Tortugas Marinas, PRETOMA Central American Director, Turtle Island Restoration Network, TIRN Co-Chair, Central American Shark Specialist Group, IUCN Tibás, San José, Costa Rica Lara Atkinson Marine Research Institute University of Cape Town Rondebosch, South Africa Dr. Johann Augustyn Chief Director: Research, Antarctica & Islands Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marine and Coastal Management Rogge Bay, South Africa Dr. John C. Avise Distinguished Professor, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology School of Biological Sciences University of California, Irvine Megan Bailey Masters Student, Fisheries Centre The University of British Columbia Vancouver, BC Dr. Andrew Bakun Professor of Marine Biology and Fisheries Pew Institute for Ocean Science Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science University of Miami, Miami, Florida, USA Jaco Barendse (MSc) Co-ordinator: Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative, WWF South Africa Cape Town, South Africa Nina Baumgartner PhD student, Zoology Department School of Biological Sciences University of Aberdeen Aberdeen, Scotland, UK Giovanni Bearzi, Ph.D. President, Tethys Research Institute Milano, Italy Bas Beekmans PhD-student British Antarctic Survey Cambridge, United Kingdom