Impact of WTO agreement on fishing subsidies derided as “trivial”

Published on
September 5, 2022
Oceana Senior Analyst Daniel Skerritt.

Oceana Senior Analyst Daniel Skerritt has warned the WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, agreed to in June 2022, will only remove a “trivial” amount of harmful fishery subsidies unless further expanded, as promised when the deal was approved.

While acknowledging that the WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies is a “significant achievement, at least politically,” Skerritt said it currently falls short of addressing Target 14.6 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to “prohibit … subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing.”

“The agreement addresses one of these aspects, and a second only partially," Skerritt told SeafoodSource. "It calls on WTO members to stop funding illegal fishing and some fishing on overfished stocks. These actions are estimated to remove only a trivial share of global harmful subsidies. It does not include explicit reference to capacity-enhancing or harmful fishing subsidies, let alone measures that prohibit their provision.”

Oceana is a non-governmental organization advocating for marine conservation. Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless criticized the WTO deal after it was approved as “a weak agreement that fails to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies that lead to overfishing.”

The deal includes punishments for government support of illegal fishing and fishing of overfished stocks, but does not discipline the act of providing subsidies deemed harmful to the health of fish stocks, Skerritt said.

“It was important that members recognized and accepted that the provision of certain forms of subsidies in and of themselves harms fish stocks. As such, it is vital that negotiations are revisited to include measures that address harmful subsidies directly,” he said. “We believe that building on this meager agreement is better than starting from scratch, but we want to see as much effort put into expanding the agreement as there is in its ratification.”

Various campaign groups, including The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Environmental Justice Foundation welcomed the agreement, while also calling for follow-up talks to end subsidies for overcapacity and overfishing.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala described the deal as a “first but significant step forward” to curb subsidies for overcapacity and overfishing by ending subsidies for fishing on the unregulated high seas, which are areas of ocean not governed by a regional fishery management organization. Okonjo-Iweala has called for swift implement of the agreement, within one year of its June 2022  passage.

European fishery industry representatives, including Europeche, have suggested the deal is too lenient on large fleets from Asia, which make up the largest share of the global distant-water fleet.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Skerritt/LinkedIn

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500