Added value. Researchers argue that one-sided fishing agreements between European Union countries and developing nations means someone gets left out in the cold.

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Global Fisheries Deals: What’s the Catch?

VANCOUVER, CANADA—As global demand for seafood continues to rise, fleets are traveling ever farther to bring home a catch. Some countries even buy the rights to fish in another country. But are the sellers—often in the developing world—getting a fair deal?

Today, researchers here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes ScienceNOW) presented new results from a case study that found that fishing agreements between the European Union (E.U.) and Madagascar, for access to Madagascar’s seafood, are not as fair as they may appear on paper.

The problem is rooted in incomplete data about fisheries, which obscure the actual terms of the agreements, said Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The official numbers from the U.N. underestimate how much fishing fleets around the world catch, because they exclude smaller-scale operations and recreational activities. Analysis from Pauly and his colleagues indicates that when these data are included, the final fisheries catches can be six times higher than commercial catch numbers alone. “It shows that [developing] countries are screwed, and then screwed even more,” Pauly told ScienceNOW.

As a result of these discrepancies, “many developing countries, including Madagascar, are actually giving away more resources than they should,” said Frédéric Le Manach, a fisheries researcher at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and lead investigator on the case study.

Inflation is also making the agreements worse for developing countries. Le Manach found that on paper, the annual access fees the E.U. paid to Madagascar for the rights to fish their waters rose from €1.1 million in 1986 to €1.7 million in 2010. But the real value decreased from €34.1 million in 1986 to €3.8 million in 2010. These adjusted values reflect incorporation of a 12% inflation rate in Madagascar and the value of the euro in this African nation, he said. Madagascar is giving away more fish for less money now than they did in 1986, Le Manach added.

“This isn’t just the case in Madagascar,” Le Manach said. Other countries, such as Comoros, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, and the Cape Verde islands off the west coast of Africa are involved in similar agreements, he added.

Unbalanced access agreements between the E.U. and other countries are nothing new, says Michael Weber, a fisheries policy analyst at the Resources Law Group in Sacramento, California, who was not involved in the current study. He examined similar contracts 10 years ago, “and even then, there were strong reports that the E.U. agreements were exploitative,” he says. “But this is the first time I’ve seen an analysis of the fees.”

Underreported or omitted catch data can affect national and international policies, Le Manach said. These E.U. contracts are unethical, he said, because Madagascar is getting less and less for a larger share of their marine resources.

Full coverage of AAAS 2012