A deal has been struck at the World Trade Organization on an agreement prohibiting support for illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and banning subsidies for fisheries deemed to be overexploited.
The slimmed-down version of the deal omitted several parts of the draft text presented to ministers, but has been broadly welcomed by environmental non-governmental organizations tracking the long-running negotiations.
Isabel Jarrett, manager of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ reducing harmful fisheries subsidies project, said the agreement “includes measures that will enhance transparency and accountability for how governments support their fishing sector.”
“These requirements apply to all 164 WTO member governments,” Jarrett told SeafoodSource. “Countries agreed to continue negotiating rules that would curb subsidies that contribute to fishing in other countries’ waters and to overfishing and overcapacity – which is a fleet’s ability to harvest more fish than is sustainable – within a nation’s own waters.”
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the deal was a “first but significant step forward” toward curbing subsidies for fleet overcapacity and overfishing by ending subsidies for fishing on the unregulated high seas, and toward increased transparency.
“As important as the prohibitions is the transparency that will finally shed light on the actual level of subsidies going to fishing,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
While the deal pledges improve the global fishing industry’s environmental performance, it could also help to level the commercial playing field of the seafood industry, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) and U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said in a letter sent 13 June to U.S. Trade Representative Katharine Tai, before the deal was finalized.
Harmful subsidies “paid by other nations like China and Russia put all other fishing fleets and their harvests at a competitive disadvantage,” the senators wrote. “This disadvantages not only Americans, but also the people of developing countries.”
It remains to be seen how the implementation of the deal will involve or impinge on the oversight of regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs) – which are nominally in charge of enforcement of provisions on overfishing and illegal fishing on the high seas, but which have been criticized for not going far enough in fighting overfishing or IUU fishing.
Prior to the agreement, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao indicated his country’s support for a deal, toward which it had earlier expressed reservations.
“China has taken a constructive part in fisheries subsidies negotiations and supports an early agreement so as to implement the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” Wang said.
Photo courtesy of WTO/Jay Louvion