(May 18, 2007)

Senate backs proposal to cut fishing subsidies

By Missy Ryan
From Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate this week endorsed a Bush administration proposal that would require trading partners to cut global fishing subsidies, which have depleted much of world fish stocks.

A Senate resolution, passed unanimously late on Thursday, "sends a strong message to world leaders: the over-exploitation of global fisheries resources must end," Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who introduced the measure, said in a statement.

The resolution, co-sponsored by more than a dozen lawmakers from both parties, voices concern about over-exploitation of fish stocks, already afflicting a quarter of the world fish population. It blames non-American fishing fleets for depleting stocks like tuna and swordfish.

It said the United States should seek to end "harmful foreign fishing subsidies that promote over-capitalization, overfishing, and illegal, unregulated and underreported fishing."

The Bush administration has put forward a plan at the World Trade Organization to curtail government supports that promote over-fishing by subsidizing equipment, fuel, and boat construction. It would allow some support aimed at reducing fishing levels with activities like boat buybacks.

Environmental groups estimate supports linked to over-fishing reach $20 billion a year.

Subsidy reform could end the "race to fish," a top U.S. trade official said earlier this month when Washington's proposal was debated at the World Trade Organization.

"We are pleased that the U.S. Senate is putting its support behind the Administration to achieve an ambitious outcome in the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations," said Courtney Sakai, who directs an anti-subsidy campaign at green group Oceana.

Stevens said the subsidies also threaten the coastal United States. "These practices harm the environment and threaten the livelihoods of American fishermen, who act according to management practices designed to ensure ... sustainability," he added.

Even if an agreement is reached at the WTO on reducing world fishing subsidies, it would not become binding unless an overall deal materializes in the Doha round of world trade talks, which has been stymied for more than five years by differences over agricultural tariffs and subsidies.

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