Quantification of U.S. Marine Fisheries Subsidies

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Subsidies to the fishing industry are common worldwide, and it is well accepted that these subsidies contribute to overcapacity in fishing fleets and overexploitation of fisheries resources. To date, however, most of the quantitative estimates of these subsidies reported in the literature have been at either the multicountry or global level. Estimates are rarely based on a detailed accounting of individual subsidy programs, limiting both their accuracy and usefulness for management decisions. The present analysis helps fill this gap with respect to U.S. fisheries subsidies. Here, the authors report estimates of the different types of subsidies paid to the fishing sector by different levels of government in the USA. Their analysis shows that from 1996 to 2004, the U.S. fishing industry received a total of US$6.4 billion in government
subsidies (an average of $713 million per year), federal funds accounting for 79% of this total.

This  estimate is conservative because it does not include funding for fisheries management, port construction and maintenance, or subsidy program administration. Federal and state fuel subsidies (44% combined) and federal and state fisheries research (40% combined) accounted for the vast majority of fisheries subsidies. The next three largest subsidies were state sales tax subsidies (5%), disaster aid (4%), and fishing access payments (3%). Distribution was heavily weighted toward Alaska and the western Pacific and toward Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp. and tunas (family Scombridae). Similar detailed examinations of fisheries subsidies in other countries will be necessary in the likely event that the World Trade Organization establishes rules prohibiting subsidies that contribute to overcapacity.

Published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management (29: 18-32, 2009).