Posted on 09 September 1998    

A new WWF report, entitled The Footprint of Distant Water Fleets on World Fisheries, finds that the size and catching power of distant water fleets grew enormously after World War II, fuelled by government subsidies and new markets for frozen fish. The declaration of 200-mile exclusive economic zones by most coastal nations in the 1970's severely limited the availability of new fishing grounds. Since then, distant water fleets have had to scramble for access to rich coastal waters or take their chances on the increasingly crowded high seas.

Distant water fishing fleets are increasingly jeopardizing the health of world fisheries, said Michael Sutton, director of WWFs Endangered Seas Campaign. These fleets are the result of an overcapitalized fishing industry, supported by massive government subsidies.

According to recent estimates, the worlds top fishing nations, including China, Japan, the United States, the Russian Federation, Norway, Korea, and the European Union, pay between $15 and $50 billion each year in fishing subsidies. Many of these subsidies support already overcapitalized distant water fleets. In 1996, for example, the EU spent $320 million -- one-third of its annual fisheries budget -- on access agreements for its distant water fleets alone. According to the WWF report released today, more than 90 per cent of subsidies to the fishing industry are administered in violation of current international trade rules.

WWF is particularly concerned about the impact of distant water fleets on local fishers in the developing world, said Tony Long, Director of WWFs European Policy Office. Artisanal fishers in places like West Africa, Asia, and Latin America today often lose out to offshore fleets of enormous catching power from Europe and elsewhere. Distant water fishing nations often coerce access to coastal fisheries and frequently offer compensation far below the true value of the catch.

On the high seas, unregulated distant water fleets take a heavy toll on remote, unprotected fisheries. A new WWF video news release shows distant water vessels from a number of countries caught plundering rich stocks of Patagonian toothfish, also known as Chilean sea bass, in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. The remoteness of this area allows poachers to operate with virtual impunity.

WWF urges distant water fishing nations to cut the size of fleets, discipline their subsidies to the fisheries sector, and strictly control the activities of their remaining vessels, said Sutton. The health of marine environment and the future of millions of people who depend upon healthy fisheries for their livelihoods is at stake.


For more information and a copy of the WWF report, contact: Leigh Ann Hurt, WWFs Endangered Seas Campaign, tel +44 1483 419294 or Martin Hiller, WWF European Policy Office, tel +32 2 743 8806

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