Countdown to Ending Harmful Fisheries Subsidies

Global agreement in 2019 would help boost ocean health

Note: The headline of this article was updated Feb. 19, 2019, to reflect Pew’s desire to see the World Trade Organization adopt measures to end harmful fisheries subsidies by the end of 2019.

With too many boats chasing too few fish, it’s time for a change. World Trade Organization (WTO) members can take a critical step in 2019 by agreeing to reduce government subsidies that support overfishing and illegal fishing and therefore contribute to worldwide declines in fish stocks.

Governments provide about US$20 billion a year on damaging types of fisheries subsidies, primarily to industrial fishers, to offset costs such as fuel, gear, and vessel construction. But WTO members have committed to negotiate and adopt an agreement to curb harmful fisheries subsidies by December.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is working with WTO members, scientists, and other stakeholders to secure an agreement that will substantially reduce subsidies that are harmful to ocean health. Action by the end of 2019 would be in line with the December 2017 WTO ministerial decision and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on the ocean—SDG 14.6—which call for reducing subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, while eliminating those that contribute to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing by 2020.

Although reducing the harmful effects of subsidized fishing has been on the WTO agenda for almost two decades, the time has come to agree on meaningful action. Given the scope, magnitude, and effects of harmful fisheries, eliminating them would help curtail overfishing and ensure that the ocean continues to provide food and support jobs far into the future.

The images below illustrate fishing practices around the world and highlight the importance of protecting the ocean for future generations.

Fish market
Fish market
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In May, at the World Trade Organization’s headquarters in Geneva, WTO member countries launched the first in a series of meetings aimed at confronting a grave threat to our ocean: fisheries subsidies.

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Haddock
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Too Many Boats Are Chasing Too Few Fish

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More than 1 billion people worldwide depend on seafood as a main source of protein, and about 100 million people rely directly on fishing for their income, yet according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 90 percent of marine fisheries either fully fished or overfished.