It is widely believed that any global effort to recover overfished stocks will require examining and addressing the role that fishery subsidies play in driving overfishing. Ongoing World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations on fisheries subsidies are aimed at reaching an agreement that helps to eliminate harmful subsidies, likely with special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed countries. Many proposals with varying parameters on subsidy bans are currently under review at WTO.
Previously, we developed a first-of-its-kind modeling framework that projects the way fleets, and therefore fish stocks, might respond to various subsidy reforms. This framework serves as a comprehensive decision-making tool to help inform ongoing WTO negotiations regarding an agreement on reforming fisheries subsidies.
While this framework is a practical and effective tool, the structural model it is based around relies on hard-to-verify empirical assumptions about the extent to which different fleets around the world are subsidized, and behavioral assumptions about how changes to subsidies would alter fishing behavior. Developing countries are concerned that a ban on harmful subsidies would impair their ability to support their fishing industries, and existing literature is either too coarse a scale or too theoretical for these nations to be comfortable with the finding that harmful subsidies are important to remove and/or replace with alternative supporting policies. Our existing “structural” approach to subsidy-reform-modeling could be substantially bolstered with empirical evidence describing the way real-world fishing fleets have previously responded to the implementation of subsidies.
A number of countries around the world have recently implemented significant changes to the way they subsidize fisheries, presenting a unique opportunity to examine the evolution of a fishery after harmful subsidies have been removed at a fine scale. We propose to leverage these policy changes to evaluate their impacts in Mexico, where we have secured a globally unique dataset of subsidy amount, fishing behavior, and landings of nearly the universe of all permitted Mexican fishers over a period of several years.
Over that time, fuel subsidy policy changed substantially, as did the subsidy amount granted to each fisher. This will allow us to generate a very high-resolution empirical estimate of the effects of subsidies on vessel behavior (e.g. number of trips per vessel, length of time fishing, distance from port) and catch. In this process, we can examine how fishery management, vessel size, species targeted, and other variables interact with subsidy reform to affect fishing behavior. Our proposed analyses will allow us to draw causal inferences about the relationships between fuel subsidies, fisheries health, and subsequently fisher welfare in Mexico, with lessons learned that can be applied more broadly.