Governments around the world spend about $35 billion each year in subsidies to the fishing sector. Although not all of these payments are harmful, studies show that about $20 billion is spent to enhance fishing capacity, which then leads to overfishing and overcapacity. These expenditures typically include subsidies for fuel, vessel construction, market support, and other activities that allow fishers to increase catch and spend more time on the water, and to profit in ways that would not be possible without the government aid.
At their 11th Ministerial Conference in December 2017, members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) declared their intent to reach agreement by the end of 2019 on “comprehensive and effective disciplines that prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.”
A separate 2020 deadline to comply with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14.6—which also calls for prohibiting harmful subsidies—is approaching as well. WTO members have a brief window in which a substantial reduction in global fishing subsidies is possible. That would help boost the health of ocean ecosystems and preserve the livelihoods of many coastal communities by addressing one of the key drivers of overfishing. With 2019 well underway, nongovernmental organizations are urging WTO members to meet their commitment.
The nearly 60 NGOs that have signed this letter are based around the world. The communication demonstrates widespread support for a successful conclusion to the fisheries subsidies negotiations. The process should result in changes and new rules that benefit the more than 1 billion people who depend on seafood as a main source of protein, and the more than 40 million people who rely directly on fishing for their income.
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