Fishing’s Future and the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Image via NOAA.

Yesterday the Senate voted to end debate on President Obama’s fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). While the full text of the TPP has not been publicly released, it will be important for the U.S. government to ensure that the fisheries-focused piece of the agreement provides for stewardship of our ocean resources.

The TPP is an agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries, including Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. As discussed here, this list “includes some of the leading fish and seafood exporting countries in the world—Vietnam, Chile, Japan, and Malaysia are among the top 20 aquaculture centers worldwide.” The TPP agreement will reduce or eliminate trade barriers between participating countries and almost inevitably increase the already dominant presence of foreign seafood products in U.S. markets.

To ensure the health and safety of fish and people, the fisheries component of the agreement should do the following three things:

1. Provide food safety for U.S. citizens. Many foreign fish and seafood operations use chemicals, including antibiotics and hormones, which are not allowed in the U.S. It will be important for the TPP agreement to provide adequate quality control and inspection measures to ensure that food safety hazards do not reach the U.S. Current inspection resources and protocols are already insufficient.

2. Include enforceable commitments to combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. As described in a previous TalkingFish blog post, IUU fishing is a worldwide problem with impacts on U.S. fishermen and communities, including those in New England. Because of this, IUU fishing received much attention during Healthy Ocean Hill Day 2015. Effective measures that combat IUU fishing will protect fishing revenues and jobs in New England and should be included in the TPP.

3. Promote sustainable fishery management domestically and internationally. The U.S. should work with partner countries to eliminate subsidized overfishing and encourage sustainable development of the ocean and its resources using appropriate precautionary principles. The TPP should not allow or create opportunities for foreign companies to interfere with federal, state, or local policies designed to ensure conservation of marine species under the guise of “free trade.”

Many of these objectives are fraught with challenges, however, particularly in the area of the elimination of subsidies for unacceptable fishing practices. Was the recent $33 million federal subsidy program to the New England groundfish fishery for the cod collapse an element of a sustainable fishery program or what the TPP might deem to be a distortion of the marketplace?

A NOAA news story describes the TPP: “TPP is a historic opportunity to address trade-distorting and environmentally damaging practices. TPP is expected to be the first-ever trade agreement to eliminate some of the most harmful fisheries subsidies, including those that contribute to overfishing. It is also set to include groundbreaking stand-alone commitments to combat IUU fishing, and promote sustainable fisheries management and conservation of marine resources, including sharks and other threatened marine species.”

As TPP negotiations come to a close, the public has to take such pledges on blind faith. Only time will tell whether such responsible marine stewardship measures are meaningfully and effectively incorporated into the final trade agreement.


Talking Fish reserves the right to remove any comment that contains personal attacks or inappropriate, offensive, or threatening language. For more information, see our comment policy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *