Origin and Nature
Overfishing is a major environmental
hazard influencing the ecological balance of the oceans and already results
into the extermination of entire fish populations. The evidence shows that only
in 2017 worldwide 153 million tons of fish has been eaten (c.f.
de.statisa.com). As fish is a food source since thousands of years it was
observed, that the commercialisation and the use of huge trawler caused major
damage on fish population, which decreased since 1950 till date around 90%
(c.f. Streckbach, 2012). For 1,2 billion people fish is the daily food source
and provides livelihood, but more often (and especially in developing
countries) fisherman come back with empty nets or a small yield (c.f. ibid). Even
the trial to protect endangered population by raising fish in aquaculture is
only partially helpful, as e.g. to produce 1kg of raised salmon 5kg of wild
caught fish must be fed. Fish is just transformed into another type of fish
without creating more fish (c.f. ibid.).
To please the demand
for fish like e.g. tuna the industrial fishery uses methods like trawling with
nets in a size of four soccer playgrounds, where around 13 jumbo jets could
easily have place in or as in reality: 500 tons of fish. Furthermore, yearly
1,4 billion hooks with again 1,4 billion smaller lures are dropped into the
oceans. The bycatch, which is thrown dead or nearly dead back in the ocean, is
accepted as fishing in high quantity is certainly profitable. For example, an
average shrimper throws 90% of its catch back in the water. That means, that
for 1kg of shrimps 9kg of other marine animals get killed (c.f. ibid.).
The looting of the
oceans is a global concern affecting whole humanity. Thereby a global fishery
policy is required. As the WWF complains although that the fishery
policy of the European Union was reformed in 2013 as the European waters had
been overfished dramatically, the problem only got “outsourced” as the trawler
started looting the ocean sides nearby developing countries like west Africa and
destroyed the livelihood of many fisherman there (c.f. wwf.de, 2016).
A rethinking and change
in the mindset of the consumer is as important as global rules and policies
regarding fishery for the benefit of the fish population, the ecological
balance and the trade who’s making its livelihood by it. An institution
powerful enough to set up rules and regulations for the protection of the
oceans and the worldwide trade of fish is required. Fortunately, after the
recession after World War II the GATT – General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was founded to liberalize worlds trade.
Certified rules and regulations for world trade, nowadays verified by the World
Trade Organization (WTO) founded in 1995, where negotiated and built a base for
goods traffic (c.f. wirtschaftslexikon.gabler.de). The will for such
multilateral agreements is a chance to find a balance and create rules,
regulations and policies for the benefit of all shareholders.
In the following the
history of the GATT and its role in Overfishing will be explained and
GATT – General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
The history of GATT
starts in 1946 and is based on the efforts of the USA who sought the
liberalization of world trade after the recession period due to the rising protectionism
after the global economic crisis in 1930 and World War II. The states suggested
the foundation of an International Trade Organization (ITO) and the
codification of a world trade charter, known as Havana Charter. Due to
negotiations in London (1946) and Genf (1947) the trade policies of the Havana
Charter got partly ratified and accepted in October 1947 by 23 states and
entered into force as from 01.01.1948 (c.f. wirtschaftslexikon.gabler.de). As
the USA did not ratify the whole Havana Charter, the GATT – the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was the only multilateral treaty till 1994. The
purpose was to create an international world trade order.
The participants of the
GATT have equal rights and normally meet on yearly basis to assemble and ratify
new proposals and policies. The most remarkable assembly was probably the
Uruguay Round in April 1994 in Marrakech. After seven years of negotiation the
results of the GATT were ratified and signed by 111 countries and the before
only provisional GATT was turned into the World Trade Organization (WTO), which
is described as milestone of multilateralism (c.f. ibid.). The last round was
the so-called Doha Round in 2005 were mainly the integration of agroeconomic
Vision of the GATT
The goal of the GATT is
the improvement of economic status, facilitation of labour and economic growth
through international exchange of goods. Therefore, collective tariff reduction
on the base of the so called most-favoured
nation clause was implemented to guaranty a reciprocal (equal)
liberalization. The non-discrimination of foreign products enabled an entry to
global trade. Tariff cuts from 33% to 100% were achieved and non-traffic trade
barriers got reduced (c.f. ibid.).
Protection of Developing Countries
In 1965 part IV of the
GATT was issued to deal with Trade and
Development as a Panel of Experts observed a “failure of the trade of less
developed countries to develop as rapidly as that of industrialized countries,
excessive short-term fluctuations in prices of primary products, and widespread
resort to agricultural protection” (wto.org). The so-called generalised system of preferences was
established which imposed trade preferences from the industrial countries
towards the developing countries. (c.f. wirtschaftlexikon.gabler.de)
Exceptions from GATT – Problems with the fish industry
Apart from several
situations, where protectionism is allowed – due to reasons of public order or
welfare or national security – The worlds trade in agricultural products was
excluded from the GATT policies, even though the participating countries could
agree on a global-contingent for the agricultural-sector to protect the
domestic production as per the Agreement on Agriculture of the Uruguay Round
However, the Round
excluded fishery products from its coverage. Thereby fishery products are not
even ratified as agricultural products and do not enjoy any specialised
international rules or policies. Fish and fishery products are treated by the
general rules of GATT/WTO and can be traded as non-agricultural products, like
industrial products (c.f. fao.org).
The need of negotiating
rules and policies for the fishery sector is understood very well, as disputes
regarding fishery products are increasing. Therefore, the Committee on Trade
and Environment (CTE) of the WTO is debating for solutions like proper subsidies
and other aspects regarding fishery in the multinational trade negotiation
(MTN) since 1999. (c.f. ibid.).
“The importance of
international trade in fishery products hardly needs to be emphasized. Fish and
fishery products represent a category of food products which have the highest
share in international trade among foods. At the same time, trade in these
products is a major source of foreign exchange earnings of the developing
countries in particular. This group of countries accounts for roughly half of
the fishery products traded internationally.” (fao.org).
Case-study: the Canadian albacore
In 1982 an incidence between
USA and Canada regarding fishery caused a case were the Art. XX (g) GATT General Exceptions relating to the
conservation of exhaustible natural resources was considered and executed.
The USA imposed an
import ban on Canadian albacore tuna. It so happened, that 19 US fisher boats
got confiscated and some fishermen got arrested by the Canadian authorities, as
they were fishing in a 200-mile zone, that Canada claimed as its territory, not
officially recognised by the USA authorities. After one year the USA stopped
the import ban, as they negotiated an agreement for entering the zone with
The USA argued that the
import ban was necessary due to Art. XX (g) GATT, as the albacore is an
overfished and endangered natural resource. Nevertheless, Canada argued that
the embargo was ineligible and due to the incidence of confiscation / arresting
the US boats and fishermen. The argumentation of the states was unacceptable
and only to illegally justify the embargo.
However, as the USA and
Canada could agree on rules for the 200-miles zone the embargo was finished.
Still Canada argued that it was improper and got right by the dealing Panel,
that an import ban by Art. XX (g) GATT was not justified. (c.f. Thiedemann, p.
Current situation and lessons learned
As already explained in
the introduction the industrial fishery is a major hazard due to the ecological
balance, the population of entire arts and to human mankind.
failed in issuing specialised rules, regulations and policies regarding fish
industry and fishery products. However, the trade of those products is covered
by the general GATT rules as shown in the case-study above. But these rules
have been more abused for political reasons, less than for a pressure release
on endangered fish sort.
Policies in trade play
a critical role in regulating production methods and finally affecting the use
of natural resources. Regulations on subsidies for example in the EU and also
in several developing countries play a determining role in production decisions,
that mostly result in unsustainable fishing practices and overfishing (c.f. E15
Expert Group, p.19f). The liberalization and tariff reductions enhanced the
fishery sector in global markets, causing on the one hand the problem of
overfishing, as global demand has an global market, but on the other hand
institutions like the GATT / WTO have the opportunity to negotiate on
regulations and fishing rates to protect the marine life (c.f. ibid.).
Yet, trade unions like
the EU have issued regulations for the catch of bluefin tuna. A sort highly
endangered to become extinct. Scientist proposed a catching rate of 10.000 tons
to give a valid chance of recovery of the exhausted population. The EU adopted
a rate of 29.500 tons yearly. However, the bluefin tuna industry catches 61.000
tons of tuna even though regulations are existing (c.f. Streckbach, 2012).
Greenpeace criticises the decision of the EU hardly, as even the previous stop
of the bluefin tuna season comes to late for the 20% of the rest population in
comparison to the population 20 years ago. Due to Greenpeace the EU wasted it
chance to protest against a new catching rate at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas – ICCAT,
that is assigning the fishing quota (c.f. greenpeace.de, 2010).
Recommendations for Future
An organization like
the WTO must come with a global solution for regulations and needs proper
methods of punishing any country, that is not going concern with that rules.
Time has shown that the GATT regulations are not wide enough and not
specialized enough to face the overfishing issue. The absence of mandatory
rules and policies allows producing practices, which can serve the short-run
demand on fish and fishery products, but will result in mid- and long-run into
a catastrophe of marine life and all its dependent.
Its fallacious to belief, that from one day to another all people will
turn to vegetarians or vegans, but as the fish industry is also a market, each
consumer must be aware of the origin also! If enough consumers demand fish from
sustainable resources and origins, then there is a true chance for recovery of
endangered fish population. Organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certify sustainable fish
production and are one link between the industry and the consumer, who can make
help against overfishing also by his or her buying decision (c.f. wwf.de,