OECD criticizes subsidies, calls for better global fisheries management

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has published its annual report on global fisheries, outlining how governments are addressing the key challenges faced by their fishing sectors and suggesting priorities for action at the national and international level.

The OECD Review of Fisheries 2020, published 10 December, is based on an in-depth analysis of the latest data reported by OECD countries and partner economies. A major finding of the review is that some current fisheries policies are continuing to contribute towards the overexploitation of stocks. As a result, progress towards achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has slipped. The goal’s objective of restoring all fish stocks “at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics” by the end of 2020, has not been reached at a global level, largely due to lack of progress on policy reforms.

The review suggests that government support for fisheries via subsidies for vessel construction or fuel do little to ensure sustainability of fish stocks, if catch effort is not controlled effectively. Instead, they can lead to overfishing and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The OECD said it opposes such policies, which go against its mission of ensuring the long-term viability of fisheries and protecting and restoring ocean resources and ecosystems.

The 31 countries participating in the review supplied information regarding 1,119 stocks, analysis of which showed that almost one quarter (23 percent) had an unfavorable biological status that needed remedial action, while two-thirds (66 percent) had a favorable biological status. The status of the remaining 12 percent of stocks was undetermined, and in need of urgent assessment, according to the OECD.

According to the FAO, in 2017 around one-third of global fish stocks (34.2 percent) were reported as having biologically unsustainable levels, up from 10 percent in 1974.  

Between 2016 and 2018, annual combined support for the fisheries sector in 39 countries reporting government support data to the OECD, was USD 9.4 billion (EUR 7.8 billion). The review looked at the types of subsidies being offered by the world’s governments, and found that fuel support was the single-largest direct support policy, accounting for 25 percent of the total. Less than one-third of the support directed towards reducing the cost of inputs – around USD 1 billion (825.4 million) – was used to provide income support or insurance systems, which are more effective mechanisms for raising fishers’ incomes, and are therefore less likely to result in overfishing, according to the OECD.

Spending on management, control, and surveillance between 2012-2014 and 2016-2018 fell significantly relative to fleet size in several countries and economies, while spending on port facilities increased, potentially providing greater landing capacity, and encouraging overfishing and IUU fishing, the report found.

Looking at management tools in place, the review found that almost one-third of countries and economies used total allowable catch limits (TACs) as a means of controlling fishing effort, and just over half (57 percent) used quotas allocated to individuals or communities. Input controls including restrictions on fishing gear, areas, and harvest capacity were frequently used.

Progress was found to have been made in policies to combat IUU fishing, particularly related to the implementation of port state measures. However, transparency over vessel registration and authorization processes, the stringency of transhipment regulation, and market measures to improve traceability and close market access to IUU fishing operators are still not being sufficiently implemented, according to the report.

The review offers a set of sweeping recommendations, including a call for governments to shift away from policies that support inputs and toward those that help fishers operate their businesses more effectively and increase their profits. This may be through education and training, or other methods that provide direct income support in a way that does not incentivize unsustainable fishing.

The OECD recommended that governments should ensure that public funding for fisheries has sufficient provision for management, control, and surveillance activities, and avoid financing infrastructure projects that encourage overcapacity and overfishing. Furthmore, it recommended more active and effective management of all fish stocks, and for the global fishing community to work together to address regulatory loopholes and policy gaps to help combat IUU fishing.  

Turning to regional fisheries management, the review recommends automatic sharing and recognition of key information among regional fisheries management organizations, which it said would support the fight against IUU fishing. The harmonization of standards for collecting scientific data and the sharing of best practices for the implementation of technology would improve overall management. Management measures enacted by individual governments should be reviewed and simplified, as they are often complex and difficult to implement and monitor, according to the OECD.

Further recommendations are that scientific and socio-economic data should be integrated into fisheries governance systems by embedding its use into decision-making. And the OECD called for more investment in data collection and analysis to build a more robust evidence base for policy change.

In order to build legitimacy for fisheries policy and policy change, the OECD recommends transparent mechanisms for stakeholder participation in the governance process, such as advisory groups, be more widely used.

The review acknowledged the COVID-19 pandemic is complicating regional and multilateral co-operation, but noted that fisheries are fundamental to feeding the world’s population and to creating jobs and resilience in coastal communities. However, the OECD said that to meet global socio-economic goals tied into the blue economy, it is vital that more significant efforts are made to ensure the world’s fish stocks are managed sustainably.


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