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The ecological cost of subsidies

September 13, 2008

The declining condition of our fisheries is in large part due to the floating factories that pass for fishing boats now.  Using unsustainable methods, they “sweep the sea clean”, as The Simpson’s Montgomery Burns likes to say.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Turns out those monster fishing boats depend on subsidies granted for political, rather than economic or ecological reasons.  Shifting Baselines has the story: Funding Priorities: Big Barriers to Small-scale Fisheries

Small-scale fisheries use much less fuel than industrial fisheries. They also discard fewer fish, convert almost none of their catch into fishmeal (to feed farmed fish, pigs, and chicken), and favor the use of labor over capital. Despite these more ‘sustainable’ traits, small-scale fisheries are disadvantaged by subsidies that go to industrial fishing fleets and keep big boats out on the water. This bias occurs because, as Daniel Pauly says, “small-scale fishers don’t golf.”

The differential in resource efficiency between large and small fisheries is really quite striking – go check it out.

If we stopped all long-term production subsidies tomorrow, corn would still be grown, cars would still be built, oil would still be pumped out of the ground, minerals would still be mined, and fish would still be caught.  If any specific commodity cost more, at least consumers would pay for it directly instead of through taxes.

This would leave short-term subsidies, intended to weather a crisis or jump-start an industry deemed important for whatever reason.  And those subsidies, like a gallon of (subsidized) milk, should have expiration dates on them.

  1. September 13, 2008 at 18:14 | #1

    How dare you question the capitalist nature of big-business fishers. How dare you question their efficiencies and impact on the environment. TERRORIST!!!!

  2. james old guy
    September 14, 2008 at 12:30 | #2

    You will find the vast majority are not American flagged or owned.

  3. September 14, 2008 at 12:40 | #3

    Yes.  They receive foreign subsidies.  Production subsidies are just as bad an idea in other countries as they are here.

  4. September 14, 2008 at 21:11 | #4

    I’ve never understood why profitable industries need subsidies, or why unprofitable industries deserve them.

  5. September 17, 2008 at 21:26 | #5

    Looks like the European Union is starting to see the situation a little more clearly. Or pretending to, we’ll see what they do.

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