Taxpayers worldwide support a variety of industries, willingly or not.
The beneficiaries include unsustainable seafood harvests that don't even make much money for the fisher folk.
We should note that U.S. fisheries rank among the most well-protected, with few considered at risk … see “U.S. Fisheries Trend to Sustainability”, “Alaskan Salmon Get Re-Certified”, and our Sustainability page.
A team of researchers calculated the global consequences of subsidies abroad, and urges governments to cut financial support to economically marginal, fast-vanishing fisheries.
Scientists from Canada, the UN, and the U.S. also estimated the costs and benefits of rebuilding the world's overstressed fisheries to sustainable levels.
The cost of the shift, including compensating and retraining fishermen, is estimated at $130 billion to $292 billion and would take four to 26 years … depending on the species and the health of the stock.
But Dr. Rashid Sumaila and his co-authors calculated that countries could recoup that expense within 12 years, and that in 50 years, the return on investment could be three times the cost.
Sumaila's team estimates that such cuts would generate healthy fish stocks and fisheries worth $54 billion … versus the $13 billion in annual losses seen in marginal, unsustainable, heavily subsidized fisheries.
As Dr. Sumaila told the Vancouver Sun, “There are too many boats going for the fish. A key component is reducing the number of boats and therefore the number of people fishing.”
And he made a key socio-political point: “This is not going to be an easy thing, because fishers need their livelihood. They need to keep busy while the fish [stocks] rebuild.”
Report sees big returns on a cut to subsidies
The report, titled “Benefits of rebuilding global marine fisheries outweigh costs”, blames over-fishing in part on government subsidies totaling $27 billion globally (Sumaila UR et al. 2012).
Sumaila and his colleagues recommend a “rest” (little or no fishing) period, depending on the fish, a country's economic climate, and the cultural significance of the fish.
The researchers recommend a decline of 40 to 60 percent to rebuild commercial fisheries like the Atlantic cod, which collapsed in the 1990s.
The paper found that:
Rebuilding the world's marine fisheries could increase landed catch to an average of 89 million metric tonnes (98 million U.S. tons) a year, with a value of $101 billion a year. This represents an increase of 10 million metric tonnes (11 million U.S. tons) and $20 billion a year over current levels.
Governments may need to collectively invest $130 billion to $292 billion to achieve healthier fish populations, but the gain in 50 years would be $660 billion to $1.4 trillion … or three to seven times the average cost of rebuilding.
This estimate is conservative because it accounts only for commercial fishing value and leaves out the potential boost to recreational fisheries and tourism.
Society as a whole would make money by promoting sustainable fishing … in part because governments spend an estimated $19 billion a year on fishing subsidies whose effects are either unclear or clearly counterproductive.
  • Pew Environment Group. Benefits of rebuilding global marine fisheries outweigh costs. July 13, 2012. Accessed at
  • McKnight Z. $292 billion: the cost of fixing global fisheries. Vancouver Sun. July 16, 2012. Accessed at
  • Sumaila UR, Cheung W, Dyck A, Gueye K, Huang L, et al. (2012) Benefits of Rebuilding Global Marine Fisheries Outweigh Costs. PLoS ONE 7(7): e40542. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040542. Accessed at