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Activists Say Fish Deal Hostage To WTO Deadlock

Date: 30-Oct-09
Country: SWITZERLAND
Author: Jonathan Lynn

GENEVA - Proposals to rescue collapsing fish stocks by restricting fisheries subsidies are under threat because of the lack of progress in global trade talks, environmental campaigners said on Thursday.

The talks on fisheries subsidies are part of the World Trade Organization's Doha round to reform global commerce rules, which is showing few signs of movement despite an intensive work program agreed by negotiators for the final months of 2009.

"We're very concerned," said Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist at Oceana, a U.S.-based group that campaigns to protect the world's oceans.

"We're in a sense hostage to the broader negotiation," he told Reuters while in Geneva to lobby trade negotiators whose talks this week have been focused on fisheries subsidies.

According to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 80 percent of the world's fisheries are overexploited, fully exploited, depleted or recovering.

Oceana says that 63 percent of fish stocks worldwide require rebuilding, while more than 1 billion people depend on fish as a key source of protein.

OVERCAPACITY, OVERFISHING

A 2006 study by the University of British Colombia found that global fisheries subsidies amount to $30-34 billion a year.

Of that total, about $20 billion increases the capacity of fleets to fish longer, harder and further away.

The WTO fisheries negotiations aim to restrict such subsidies. But countries with large industrial fishing fleets -- such as China, Japan and South Korea -- are reluctant to cut their supports. Many developing nations with subsistence fishermen such as India and African states are also wary.

Hirshfield said it was important to distinguish between different types of fishing. Helping someone in an un-motorized craft fishing in coastal waters for himself or for sale locally by providing ice or docks would not add to overfishing.

But providing cheap fuel to industrial fleets to go around the world for fish as an economic commodity was more dangerous.

Geneva negotiators told Oceana the overall Doha talks would not move until the United States got more involved, he said.

"The question is whether it's sufficient for the United States to re-engage or whether other countries or other obstacles will magically appear once the U.S. is eliminated as an excuse," he said.

"We just think that it's critical for the WTO to include real reductions in global fishery subsides in any deal that is reached," he said.

Julie Packard, head of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said growing consumer awareness of overfishing was leading food processors and retailers, like Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Aramark Inc, to commit to source food from sustainable fisheries.

Packard said it was not all bad news in the oceans and some stocks were recovering with the right treatment.

"The oceans are resilient. If we just lay off fishing for a while they're going to recover," she said.

(Editing by Erik Kirschbaum)

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