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UW’s Shogren Among Academics Who Support Elimination of Subsidies for Fisheries

October 29, 2021

A University of Wyoming professor has pledged his support against subsidies for fisheries that he and hundreds of other university faculty and scientists say lead to overfishing worldwide.

Jason Shogren, the Stroock Chair of Natural Resource Conservation and Management in the UW Department of Economics, is among academics who recently signed a letter urging the World Trade Organization (WTO) to eliminate harmful subsidies they say encourage overfishing on the high seas and in waters under national jurisdictions.

“As economists, we are always saying to policymakers: ‘Get the prices ‘right.’ The ‘right’ price means the price that accurately reflects the true costs and benefits to all of society, not just a select group or industry,” Shogren explains. “Typically, most government subsidies are not designed to ‘get the prices right’ but, rather, to help out one industry over another or to help producers more than consumers. Politically, there are reasons to do this; economically, there are not. Why? Because governments are artificially distorting how scarce resources are allocated across an economy, and total economic value goes down.”

Shogren is among 296 authors from 255 institutions, primarily academic, who signed a letter, titled “WTO Must Ban Harmful Fisheries Subsidies,” that was published today (Oct. 29) in Science. The journal publishes the very best in research across the sciences, with articles that consistently rank among the most cited in the world.

“My contribution is to join the scientific chorus asking that the WTO ban countries from incentivizing overharvesting through the artificial distortion caused by the subsidization of costs and prices,” Shogren says.

The letter, from representatives from 46 countries over six continents, urges the WTO to “eliminate harmful subsidies … to curb overfishing, biodiversity degradation and loss, and CO2 emissions, and to safeguard food and livelihoods.”

The group estimates global fisheries subsidies at $35.4 billion in 2018, of which capacity-enhancing subsidies are $22.2 billion. The top five subsidizing political entities -- China, the European Union, the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan -- contribute 58 percent or $20.5 billion of the total estimated subsidy.

The figures come from a book titled “Infinity Fish: Economics and the Future of Fish and Fisheries” and written by Ussif Rashid Sumaila, a professor and Canada Research Chair in Interdisciplinary Ocean and Fisheries Economics at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, and the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia. Sumaila is the lead author of the letter that appears in Science.

An effective agreement must eliminate subsidies for fuel, distant-water and destructive fishing fleet, and illegal and unregulated vessels, according to the letter. The letter urges the WTO to address the issues at its 12th Ministerial Conference, which is scheduled Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in Geneva, Switzerland.

“All countries depend, in part, on fishing. So, in effect, all countries are threatened in the long run if incentivized overharvesting is allowed to continue,” Shogren says. “The countries most threatened today are those countries with developing/emerging economies in which most fishermen are small-scale or subsistence level operators. Fisheries can be a significant part of overall GDP (gross domestic product). Looking at World Bank data, affected countries include some of the poorest economies, which include Somalia, Sierra Leone, Chad and Liberia.”

For more information, email Shogren at jramses@uwyo.edu.

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