Fishing Boat Dispatch # 6: What Have Subsidies Got To Do With It

Environmental Policy Policy Brief # 119 | By: Katherine Cart | July 17, 2021

Header photo taken from: Baird Maritime




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Corporate wealth towers like megalithic fungi about the globe. Imagine the coagulated money of the world sprouting graphically in the areas in which the owners of that money are housed, bedded, fed. This should appear rather like a globular histogram, with, say, Beijing, New York City, Hong Kong, Moscow, Shenzhen, San Francisco etc. etc. sprouting great swaying money towers.

Now, conversely, consider a similar globular graph that depicts where the physical goods powering wealth are sourced from. We’ll call this a wealth-impact histogram. The swathes of open country where Big Ag spreads feedlots are now histogram platforms. As are: the rivers dammed, the rivers dried; Congo’s cobalt mines; Utah’s Bingham County; the Gulf of Mexico; the monocultured swathes of the global south; the arctic into which drills have dug; the delicate oceans. The world’s water is an eruption of wealth-impact.

Consider the government subsidy. It is not a watertight gift, this monetary boost. The power of money leaks, is in no way unidimensional. Big Ag subsidies clear ground, allow for aggressive farming techniques that lower consumer prices, stoking competition that in turn perpetuates even more aggressive farming techniques that lower consumer prices– etc.

Such centralized wealth is problematic in a species like ours that depends on long-term resource gathering; it alienates the consumer from the product, and from that product’s impact on the planet.

Which is not to say that the division of the consumer from the consumed has not allowed for awesome civil, scientific, cultural, artistic progress; I mean only to highlight the very obvious fact that, collectively we – or rather, the inherent human trend towards cultural leap-frog, a societal/tribal darwinism of sorts – have overplayed our parasitism of the planet.

We act en masse, problematically tied to our reptilian fear of falling behind, of not keeping up with the big dogs.

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Photo taken from: TripAdvisor

I haven’t been aboard an Alaskan fishing vessel in nearly a year. Yesterday, however, I Facetimed with a former crew member. He tells me that fishing vessels targeting yellowfin sole (a relatively inexpensive and generally abundant flatfish caught by bottom trawl – and here I must define “inexpensive” as it relates to the consumer; bottom trawling is an ecologically extortionate practice) are hauling up, after several hours of towing, one half ton bags of yellowfin and/or “trash fin” AKA bycatch-to-be-unused-and-discarded.

This is, to my knowledge, abnormal. Inarguably, ecosystems and oceanic currents and marine populations do and would oscillate sans industrial reaping, but to consider industrial reaping to be trivial is asinine.

Marine life is vast in terms of the individual’s consumption. In terms of global consumption and the methods by which we harvest, marine life is finite.

To flatline the flux and smooth the potholes of the consumable fisheries market, fishing companies, families and communities are subsidized (this was especially true in 2020 and 2021 when Covid-19 relief packages assuaged the impact of closed restaurants). Subsidies are standard fare in “normal” years; in 2018, global fisheries corporations were subsidized by $22 billion in payout, allowing vessels to scrape bottom and scrape bottom, filling quotas one metric ton at a time.

Money speaks as a gauge of preciousness, of rarity, to the difficulty of acquisition. Money speaks too loudly: the true nature of production is lost in transit. Subsidies scrub the dirt, if you will, from the consumable. To subsidize the mega-companies that trawl the ocean floor is to alienate the consumer from the impact their meal has upon this earth.

To be witness to the slumping of ecosystems, to stand on a trawl deck and wonder to where the fish have gone and to see a limp codend sloughing black benthic mud, coral, crab, some fish is to be witness to the repetitive abuse of a living thing so harsh that that thing is changing shape. We beat the ocean, expecting her to produce.

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Fuel is subsidized. The building of new, more efficient boats is subsidized (double trawl, faster factories, fewer employees, greater automation: we are aiming towards a remote-controlled fishing boat; that’s another story).

If we consumed without the power of money that sprouts en masse from the wealth centers of our world we would consume differently. A depleted place would be left not perhaps for any moral or long-view ecological reason but because the company and consumer that harvested there would not be able to turn profit.

Subsidies muddy the water, as it were, and cloud the judgement of the consumer, who is not wealthy, who is budgeted, who exists in a world that demands awareness of too much to leave room for the tracing of true food production.

Subsidies alienate us from earth, allow us to pretend we are not the rampant, squirming parasite in this overburdened ecosystem. The boreholes we make are kept wonderfully hidden from the eye.

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