NEWS 2021-10-29

WTO must end harmful fisheries subsidies, scientists urge

Hundreds of scientists around the world have signed a letter in Science urging World Trade Organisation (WTO) members to reach an agreement to ban harmful fishing subsidies. With 90 percent of the world’s fish stocks either fully exploited or overfished, according to FAO, WTO members must prohibit fisheries subsidies that cause harm.

Beijer researchers Anne-Sophie Crépin, Carl Folke and Max Troell are among the 296 signatories from 46 countries on 5 continents, which were led by Beijer board member Rashid Sumaila, University of British Columbia.

“Global fish catches are fluctuating near the highest levels ever reported, while the fraction of fish stocks that are sustainable has never been lower. Nevertheless, governments spent US$22 billion of public money on harmful fisheries subsidies in 2018”, co-author Daniel Skerritt, University of British Columbia, wrote in an article in the Conversation, earlier this year. He added that 80% went to the large-scale (industrial) fishing sub-sector.

”Policies with side effects that seriously harm fish stocks must be avoided. The objectives that these subsidies are targeting can often be achieved in other less harmful ways”, says Anne-Sophie Crépin.

Harmful subsidies include such that lower the cost of fuel and vessel construction or that provide price support to keep market prices artificially high, as well as support to distant-water fishing fleets that risk overfishing on the high seas and in waters under national jurisdiction.

In the Science letter, the scientists argue that World Trade Organization (WTO) members have a unique opportunity at their ministerial meeting in November to reach an agreement that eliminates harmful subsidies:

“An effective agreement must eliminate subsidies for fuel, distant-water and destructive fishing fleets, and illegal and unregulated vessels in line with the aims of Sustainable Development Goals”.

“It is essential to curb overfishing, biodiversity deg­radation and loss, and CO2 emissions, and to safeguard food and livelihoods”, they add.

Read the letter