Against all odds the editors of Bloomberg have found something the United States is doing right:
Subsidies make it possible for enormous boats to travel long distances to fish the deep waters that lie far from any coastline. More than half of this high-seas fishing would be unprofitable without subsidies. Curtailing it would boost populations of migratory fish, helping to restock coastal fisheries.
China provides the biggest subsidies for overfishing. Japan, Spain and South Korea spend heavily also. But in the U.S., beginning in the 1990s, both political parties came to recognize the problem and pull back. For many years, Congress barred appropriations for new boat loans, and in the late ’90s and early 2000s even spent millions on buying back vessels, gear and fishing permits. These days, most of the government’s investment in fishing goes to research, monitoring and conserving fish stocks, and other beneficial activities.
The U.S. has pushed to end other countries’ subsidies. Prohibitions against them are included in both the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which the U.S. subsequently discarded) and the yet-to-be ratified United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The U.S. is also part of an ongoing effort at the World Trade Organization to cut subsidies for capacity. Agreement in that forum would be ideal, because it would encourage the broadest possible compliance. All this makes it especially counterproductive for the U.S. to change its approach.
We should continue doing it right. Not only should the United States not further subsidize commercial fishing, it should impose punitive tariffs on countries that subsidize commercial fishing, especially countries that subsidize commercial fishing as ferociously as China and Japan do with factory ships that virtually sweep all life out of the oceans. Paradoxically, such tariffs would encourage freer trade.
These are mercantilist countries who subsidize commercial fishing to maintain food independence and minimize their imports. Not only do their practices hurt the environment and us, they hurt developing countries. If they want to maintain food independence, let them. But there should be a steep price to pay for it.
And in case there are any hypocrisy-hunters out there, I oppose our own subsidies for cotton and sugar, too.