Senator Stevens Floor Statement on the Introduction of the Senate Resolution Against Harmful Foreign Fishing Subsidies

May 3, 2007

Mr. President, I've come to the floor to discuss the overcapitalization of the world's fishing fleets, which is being fueled by the subsidies foreign governments direct to their fishing industries. The problems caused by these subsidies affect not only our global fisheries resources, but also the coastal communities which depend upon them. I am introducing a Senate Resolution condemning these subsidies and the unsustainable fishing practices they enable.  Fisheries resources - especially large predatory species and other commercially valuable fish stocks - have been overexploited by foreign industrial fishing fleets for years. As a result, these stocks have declined precipitously. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that one-quarter of global fish stocks are overexploited, depleted, or recovering from overexploitation.
To a significant extent, the decline of fisheries resources around the world is intensified by the outdated and mistaken assumption - still held by many nations - that our oceans' productivity is infinite and that fish stocks can be harvested without consequence.  In the United States, we know this is not the case. While we once used subsidies to increase our harvesting capacity, we have since eliminated this practice. Today, we have developed a fisheries management system which respects and conforms to the requirements of fisheries conservation.  The Magnuson-Stevens Act, including the amendments added in January, continues to ensure our harvests are guided by science-based catch limits.  These controls prevent overfishing and provide managers with the tools they need to limit entry and prevent overcapitalization.  Unfortunately, sustainable fishing policies are not the norm among all fishing nations. Many countries with subsidized industrial fishing fleets have sought to exploit not only their own waters, but also the high seas.
Fisheries in international waters are largely unregulated, but even where international management bodies do exist, these damaging practices are carried out in defiance of international quotas and other harvest limits. Not surprisingly, those countries engaged in illegal, unregulated, and unreported - or "IUU" fishing - are often the same ones that use subsidies to expand their fleets.
These subsidies, and the IUU fishing associated with them, must end. Today, the capacity of the global fishing fleet is far greater than what is needed to catch the oceans' sustainable level of production. Subsidies also create an uneven playing field among fish trading countries by masking the true cost of fishing. To the economic detriment of the U.S. and other non-subsidizing nations, up to one-quarter of global fish trade is currently generated by subsidized fisheries. Ultimately, if nations are allowed to stay on this unsustainable path, fish stocks in the global ocean commons will be reduced even further.  The United States, with the support of other countries opposed to subsidies, is now leading an international initiative against harmful fisheries subsidies. Last month, the United States Trade Representative presented a proposal to the World Trade Organization which would eliminate this type of subsidy among WTO members. This proposal, being negotiated in the Doha Development Round, holds great promise for ending those subsidies which distort trade, weaken economic conditions in fishing communities, and lead to IUU fishing and other unsustainable harvesting practices. The resolution I introduce today condemns these harmful foreign fishing subsidies, and I urge each of my colleagues to give it their full support.