Fisheries subsidies are subsidies that are given to the private fishing sector by governments. The problem is that they are known to harm small-scale producers, damage fish stocks, as well as undermine the livelihoods and food security of many coastal communities. According to some accounts, fishing subsidies account for around $35 billion worldwide, of which US$22 billion directly contribute to overfishing.
The deal on fisheries subsidies that was agreed this week at the four-day World Trade Organisation conference in Geneva, is a crucial step towards more sustainable fisheries as, for the first time ever, subsidies on overfishing, deep sea fishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has been addressed during the intense negotiation talks this week.
WTO Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said in her closing speech: “The agreement prohibits support for Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. It bans support for fishing in overfished stocks. And it takes a first but significant step forward to curb subsidies for overcapacity and overfishing by ending subsidies for fishing on the unregulated high seas. As important as the prohibitions is the transparency that will finally shed light on the actual level of subsidies going to fishing. And you have committed to further negotiations to build on these disciplines.”
The deal is said to help vulnerable communities whose livelihoods depend on marine resources for food and income. Currently, the global fishing fleet is around 2.5 times larger than it should be able to fish sustainably. The treaty agreed in Geneva now hopes to offer support to vulnerable fishing communities, while making fisheries more sustainable.
Following the announcement, Charles Clover, executive director of Blue Marine Foundation, said: “The world has been travelling hopefully towards a global agreement to limit subsidies for fishing since the first, abortive, meeting of the WTO in 2000 – I was there as a reporter in the mist of pepper spray and CS gas that accompanied the demonstrations around the Seattle meeting. For far too long subsidising overfishing has been one of the most egregious instances of mismanagement and pandering to powerful interests.”
He added: “So any agreement on limiting fisheries subsidies after so long – and two years after it was meant to be concluded – is still a huge achievement. There appears to have been some serious progress made on some of the biggest issues facing overfishing, especially around illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and fishing in the high seas. We are extremely pleased to see a ban on support for fishing overfished stocks – these steps should lead to significant progress. There are fleets, many from powerful and wealthy nations, who should be looking at what they do very carefully after today. Agreement on limiting subsidies where stocks are overfished, and greater transparency over what subsidies are actually being given, will be a huge influence over time. The commitment to further talks on what constitute harmful subsidies is also very welcome.”
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