Sunday, September 23, 2007

Oceans in Metro

I knew that DC is a little different than other cities. The convergence of political elite with urban culture is already strange enough for a goateed, granola munching whitey like me who hardly remembers how to put on a tie. Even so, I was surprised to encounter a political issue ad in the Metro tunnels. And this one used the word, 'subsidies.' I'm not sure about you, but I'm neither comfortable lauding subsidies nor excoriating them. So I was happy to check out Oceana's description of how subsidies affect the fishing industry. Granted, we know from the billboard what Oceana thinks of this, but at least they are out there trying to raise awareness.

Oceana is an international advocate for the oceans. They appear to be a well connected, well funded group that takes practical approach to diplomacy and lobbying on behalf of ocean health. The group supports fisheries management, efforts to reduce man-made climate change, and responsible governance of ocean resources. From their website,
OCEANA CAMPAIGNS TO PROTECT AND RESTORE THE WORLD'S OCEANS. Our teams of marine scientists, economists, lawyers and advocates win specific and concrete policy changes to reduce pollution and to prevent the irreversible collapse of fish populations, marine mammals and other sea life.
This sounds like something I could get on board with. It's an advocacy group of citizen scientists.

So what of this lighted billboard? Well, it happened to be in the Capitol South Metro stop. I wonder how many congressional staffers use that station? Are they the ad's intended audience? I also wonder if there is current legislative activity concerning American fisheries on the board. A quick search on THOMAS revealed that fishing subsidies are included in the farm bills in the House and Senate, but finding the specifics is a task outside the scope of this post. What is in the scope of this post is a brief primer on food subsidies.

Hearkening back to our intro economics courses, recall that the definition (Wikipedia) of subsidy is,
financial government assistance, such as a grant, tax break, or trade barrier, that encourages the production or purchase of a good.
Fishing subsidies come in the form of tariffs on imported fish, grants to build boats and pay for fuel, and reduced taxes for fishermen. According to Oceana, this accounts for $30 billion a year given to fishermen that enables the fishing industry to expand capacity beyond its normal capacity. More of the ocean is fished and when fishing occurs in largely unregulated open waters, there is critical damage to fish populations. Oceana's campaign to reel in those subsidies is an effort to improve global fishery sustainability.

The ad's clever graphic hits this home: Government coin raining into the trawlers makes up (in the fisherman's purse) for the fact that no fish are biting. Unfortunately, as long as fishing for fewer fish remains a viable way to make a living, sustainable fisheries will be impossible.

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