The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization Sub-Committee on Fish Trade will be meeting in Norway next week, and preliminary data released shows that exports are at an all time high. 2013 is set to make a new record in fish trade at 160 million tonnes, up 3 million from the previous year. That is a $136 billion industry in exports alone. While this is welcome news for the global economy, it raises worries for those concerned with overfishing and the sustainability of the industry on the whole.
Seafood is booming. High prices in species such as salmon and shrimp have maintained even with growth in aquaculture output, and the demand for fresh seafood keeps increasing. But not everyone is benefiting equally from the enormous profits of the global fishing industry. While developing countries are supplying 61 percent of fish by volume, they are only receiving 54 percent by value. This seems fairly neutral at first, with developing countries holding their own in global fish trade against the economic behemoths of the Western world, but the FAO warns that the benefits are not being seen by the small-scale fishing communities and farmers who represent 90 percent of the global seafood workforce. While neoliberal readers may be surprised to hear that trickledown economics seem to be failing for developing countries, it is a real issue when the bulk of the workforce is being left out of the economic development. Feminist scholars and activists will be interested in knowing that half of these seafood workers are female, and that helping small scale producers should be able to help women in developing countries.
It is the same story. Small scale workers simply do not have the capital and bargaining power to compete at the same level as the big players on a global scale. When you add in restrictions and catch certification that first world markets are moving towards in order to ensure an environmentally sustainable fishing industry, you have further problems for small-scale fishers who live in countries that simply do not have the infrastructure to meet the requirements for the most profitable markets. The FAO recommends to countries that they tailor national policies to not overlook small-scale sectors; however at this time they do not seem to be providing solutions for developing countries that have a more difficult time meeting market access regulations other than a plea to the countries to get with the times and provide programs to ensure compliance.
Developing countries need more focus. While it is not a happy truth, the fewer the regulations in place, the more opportunities for illegal and unregulated fishing there are. We will see if the FAO is able to offer concrete, valuable solutions for developing countries to meet growing restrictions to markets and to provide for their small scale workers and sectors in the future. Readers looking for more information can refer to the FAO website for further information.