Pew Pleased With WTO for Agreeing to Curb Harmful Fisheries Subsidies

New deal will boost fish populations, improve ocean health, and help coastal communities

GENEVA—The Pew Charitable Trusts today said it was pleased that World Trade Organization members reached a binding agreement to curb some harmful fisheries subsidies, an achievement that will help curtail overfishing and begin to improve the global ocean’s health.

Governments spend US$22 billion a year on subsidies paid to primarily industrial fishing fleets to artificially lower fuel and vessel construction costs, enabling these large vessels to catch more fish than is sustainable by fishing farther out to sea and for longer periods.

The new agreement will curtail these damaging subsidies by creating a global framework that limits subsidies for illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; subsidies for fishing on overfished stocks; and subsidies to vessels fishing on the unregulated high seas. The agreement includes measures that will enhance transparency and accountability for how governments support their fishing sector. These requirements apply to all 164 WTO member governments.

Countries agreed to continue negotiating rules to curb subsidies that contribute to fishing in other countries’ waters and to overfishing and overcapacity—which is a fleet’s ability to harvest more fish than is sustainable—within a nation’s own waters.

Seven years ago, 193 countries adopted the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, of which Goal 14 called for conserving and responsibly using the ocean and marine resources—with nations committing to effectively regulate fisheries, eliminate illegal fishing, and, by 2020, reach an agreement to prohibit the harmful fisheries subsidies that fund destructive fishing practices.

Although WTO members missed that deadline, they persisted, ultimately striking a deal today during the WTO’s 12th ministerial conference.

Isabel Jarrett, manager of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ reducing harmful fisheries subsidies project, issued the following statement:

“For decades, irresponsible fishing practices have unnecessarily depleted fish populations and damaged economies and ecosystems. Curbing the subsidies that drive overfishing can help restore the health of fisheries and the communities that rely on them. The WTO’s new agreement is a step toward doing just that.

“This is a turning point in addressing one of the key drivers of global overfishing. Now WTO members need to bring the treaty into force as swiftly as possible and implement it in good faith. Recognizing that there are still outstanding issues for WTO members to discuss, we were pleased to see them commit to recommending further rules on harmful fisheries subsidies at the next ministerial conference.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems.

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