Study shows subsidies make high seas fishing profitable

A study published in June in the open-access journal Science Advances says as much as 54 percent of high seas fisheries are profitable because of large government subsidies.

These marine waters beyond national jurisdiction cover 64 percent of the ocean’s surface.

They are dominated by a small number of fishing countries that reap most of the benefits of fishing this internationally shared area.

Without subsidies and the forced labor some of them are known for, such fishing on the high seas would be profitable in over half the high seas fishing grounds, according to Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and lead author of the study. The research was a collaborative effort of the National Geographic Society; the University of California, Santa Barbara; Global Fishing Watch; the Sea Around Us project at the University of British Columbia; and the University of Western Australia.

Researchers estimated that fishing is taking place for almost 10 million hours annually across 132 million square kilometers, or 57 percent of the high seas. While some of these fisheries are profitable, squid fishing and deep bottom trawling would not make sense without subsidies, Sala said. The study also found that beyond subsidies, unfair labor compensation or no compensation at all are the key cost reducing factors of this fishery.