International Nonprofits Urge WTO to End Harmful Fisheries Subsidies This Year

109 groups call on member nations to meet their 2020 deadline to reach agreement

Governments around the world spend about $35 billion annually in subsidies to the fishing sector. Although not all of these payments are harmful, studies show that more than $22 billion each year 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.

Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) face a 2020 deadline to meet United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14.6, which calls for a prohibition on these harmful subsidies. That means the WTO has only a brief window—until the end of its Twelfth Ministerial Conference in June in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan—to finalize an agreement.  

One hundred and nine nongovernmental organizations based around the globe issued a policy statement March 3 calling for world leaders to engage in discussions now to reach an agreement before time runs out. The communication demonstrates widespread support for a successful conclusion to the fisheries subsidies negotiations this June. A deal to curb harmful subsidies 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.