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WWF calls on WTO to end subsidized overfishing and illegal fishing

WWF is calling for member governments of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to agree to end the environmental harm and trade distortions caused by fisheries subsidies. Fisheries subsidies is one of the key issues up for negotiation during the 11th Ministerial Conference beginning this Sunday, December 10 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has provided a much needed focus and urgency to these discussions as the UN Sustainable Development Goals also include a target to “prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing, and refrain from introducing new such subsidies” by 2020.

In a position paper prepared for WTO members, WWF urges governments to reach an agreement to end subsidies that contribute to overfishing, overcapacity and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Subsidies are a key driver of overfishing, leading to overcapacity in fishing fleets and skewing production costs so that fishing operations continue when they would otherwise not make economic sense. Government support for illegal fishing should be banned without exceptions, according to the WWF briefing document.

“Reining in the harmful effects of subsidized fishing has been on the WTO agenda for nearly two decades and it is long overdue for governments to reach a meaningful agreement,” said John Tanzer, Leader Oceans Practice, WWF International. “The renewed dialogue is encouraging. Still, there is no time to waste. Ocean ecosystems and fish stocks continue to decline in the face of unsustainable and unfair fishing activities that are fuelled, in many cases, by short-sighted government spending on subsidies.”

The ocean economy has an asset base of over $24 trillion and generates at least $2.5 trillion each year. Much of that is based on the productive capacity of fisheries and the health of habitats. In recent decades, fishery productivity has declined dramatically in the face of increased fishing capacity and fishing effort. Over one billion people depend on fish as a primary source of protein and 100 million people are directly dependent on fishing for their livelihoods. Ninety percent of the people who derive their livelihoods from fishing live in developing and least developed countries and they are disproportionately affected by the depletion of fish stocks.

“Subsidized overfishing will continue without a comprehensive and binding agreement by WTO members. WWF is highly concerned about the potential narrow scope of a decision taken in Buenos Aires,” added Tanzer. “It will not be enough for WTO members to focus on a very limited set of subsidies, such as those for certain types of IUU activities, or to allow for broad and blanket exemptions.”

“There is global momentum to improve our collective stewardship of the ocean. We remind WTO member governments about the urgent need for action and their responsibility to contribute to this effort. We call on them to demonstrate political will, accomplish the task they have assigned themselves and eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies – the cost of inaction is too high,” said Tanzer.