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.