Should the government step in and pay fishermen to refrain from overfishing?It has been estimated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization that over 70% of the world’s fish stocks...

Should the government step in and pay fishermen to refrain from overfishing?

It has been estimated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization that over 70% of the world’s fish stocks are either fully exploited or depleted. The reason for this decline is overfishing. Conservationists argue that much tighter restrictions must be implemented in order for the fish populations to be renewed. However, commercial fishermen argue that they are not overfishing and that stocks are managed. They also argue that they cannot survive without the income their jobs bring in. Should the government pay fishermen to refrain from fishing until populations are restored?

Expert Answers
Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe the government has to step in somewhat and give financial compensation to fishermen so fish stocks can be renewed in areas where overfishing is taking place. The significant depletion of fish stocks ultimately is harmful to the environment, the regional and national economy, and the nation's export strength. Therefore, measures must be taken to grow fish stocks while helping fishermen absorb the brunt of the economic hardship they will experience.

Consider what happened in the Maritimes, in Canada, in the early nineties. The Canadian government shut down Newfoundland's northern cod fish industry. The cod stocks were dwindling dramatically. This was due to overfishing, mismanagement in the industry, as well as environmental changes that affected the cod stocks. Today, there are indications that cod stocks are growing in the area once again.

At the time, the Canadian government did provide some compensation to the fishing industry. Multiple thousands in the industry were laid-off. The government offered a five-year compensation package. This was the federal government's 1.9 billion dollar program called TAGS - The Atlantic Groundfish Strategy Program. I believe programs such as this are necessary to help fishermen retrain in new careers; they are a safety net to help fishermen survive while they look for new avenues to earn a living and support themselves and their families - especially in these turbulent economic times.

Cod Fishing in Newfoundland

5 Fish Per Day

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly an historical precedent exists in the situation of over-fishing if compared to over-planting, which led to soil depletion, erosion, and the eventual development of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.  I honestly feel a little divided over the issue.  While part of me thinks that protecting the environment from over-fishing is as every bit as important as preventing soil erosion and should be subsidized by the government, my more practical side groans from the thought of adding to the already enormous national deficit. Our national budget is over-drawn as it is, and although it would be great if our government could throw some money at this issue to try and fix it, Congress needs to practice more frugality in terms of over-spending.  During the Great Depression, Roosevelt's administration created the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation to stabilize prices by paying farmers to slaughter their livestock rather than sell them; but the government's involvement in paying off farmers came only at a much more severe economic need.  Although over-fishing is a serious dilemma, it cannot really compare in scope or severity to the economic crisis caused by the Dust Bowl in conjunction with the Great Depression.

The fishing industry has a true need and claim to financial assistance from the government, but will have to wait until some of the more superfluous spending can be trimmed from the budget. 

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, not that I relish debate with one of our science experts, but recent studies have shown that there is so much pollution in the ocean (not surprising with spreading dead zones) that 2/3s of what fish take in as food is actually plastic particles, and these particles contain VOCs and POPs (volatile organic compounds and persistent organic compounds). As a result of such quantitative studies, a couple of years ago, the President's Advisory on nutrition and diet warned against eating fish--at all. The advisory warned consumers to eat only fresh water trout and Alaskan salmon, no Atlantic salmon. It also strongly warned against farm raised fish (strongly!) as they have high rates of disease and parasites and low integrity of muscle quality and nutrient value. So, the argument against paying fishers not to catch fish dwindles if food value and fish-farm substitutes are the substantiations.

While I chafe at the notion of "not" subsidies, especially as some agricultural ones seem to have been ill judged and mismanaged, I completely agree that (1) fishing has to be cut way down and (2) the fishers must be given an alternative to impoverishment and floundering in the torpid economic waters. It seems the model portd recommends of providing displacement job training is a viable and reasonable one. We know it is a successful one because it has been implemented in many instances where industries or corporations have shut down and employees have been provided with alternative education at local colleges.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think paying fishermen subsidies is much more wise than subsidies for corn and many other agricultural products that are sustainable in the markets (or much more so) than the world's fisheries. 

The only problem with this model is that anything past 12 miles offshore is international waters,  and subsidy or no subsidy, fishing dependent nations such as Japan, the Phillipines, and Russia could continue to overfish, limiting the effectiveness of this type of subsidy program.  Salmon could be an exception, where most are caught in the bays and shallows near their spawning river entrance as opposed to in the deep sea. 

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This sounds pretty bizarre, but it makes a lot of sense and I do not think it would be a bad idea.  It is, after all, not that different from what has been done in the past in agricultural policy in the United States.  Beginning during the Great Depression, the federal government has often paid farmers to let parts of their land lie fallow.  If this makes sense for farmers, then it makes sense for fishermen as well.  The one thing I would say, though, is that it would probably make more sense to try to retrain fishermen and/or push for economic diversification in areas that depend on fishing.

trophyhunter1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Actually, due to overfishing for years, many areas in the U.S. and other countries have seen the demise of certain fish species as a viable food source. However, paying fisherman not to fish doesn't seem to make sense. Why not produce more fish hatcheries and farms? Why not continue to post size limits on endangered fish species and continue with catching and releasing those that are too small to keep? Fish is one of the healthiest protein sources. We need to cooperate with other countries to preserve the fish stock in the oceans for future generations.

shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I cannot imagine justifying paying somebody not to fish. I understand the economic argument and the historical precedent, but our greatest national problem right now is our looming budget disaster. Somebody has got to come up with a better idea. I wish it could be me, but alas, it cannot be.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Farmers are paid not to farm, so why shouldn't fishermen be paid not to fish?  I think they should be paid to create facilities to farm their own fish, to prevent over-fishing.  Then we still get the fish, but nothing goes extinct.

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