WTO sets new date for discussions on deal to limit fishing subsidies

A fishing boat at night.

The WTO has rescheduled its 12th Ministerial Conference for the week of 13 June, 2022, with a deal to limit fishery subsidies a key item on the agenda.

It comes as China has upped its subsidies to the country’s biggest state-owned tuna fishing firms while Greenpeace has sounded the alarm at the increased threat to marine biodiversity from growing distant-water fleets.

Tuna-focused Kaichuang Marine International announced in mid-March it had received a new CNY 25 million (USD 4 million, EUR 3.5 million) subsidy package from the Chinese government to help it expand its international operations. And CNFC Overseas Fishing received more than CNY 190 million (USD 29.8 million, EUR 27.1 million) in subsidies in 2021, despite being linked to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

Chinese distant-water fishing firms and their home ports have in the past decade aggressively targeted squid catches in Latin America, the Indian Ocean, and in North Korean waters. Cuttlefish and squid make up 72 percent of landings from China’s distant-water fleet, while tuna makes up 15.3 percent, according to a recent report authored by a group of American and Norwegian academics and published in Science.

Greenpeace has suggested in a new report that a massive expansion in squid-fishing is endangering marine ecosystems. The global catch of five million tons in 2020 was up from 500,000 tons in 1950, and there has been an 800 percent increase in the past five years in the number of squid vessels on the seas, according to Greenpeace. Sixty percent of the global catch brought in by vessels operating from China, Peru, and Indonesia, according to Greenpeace, though a large percentage of their catch is sold on to other markets.

Isabel Jarrett, the manager of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ reducing harmful fisheries subsidies program, told SeafoodSource that WTO members were “closer than ever before to finalizing an agreement” in late 2021, before the ministerial meeting was canceled due to the spread of a new variant of COVID-19.

Jarrett wants to see a deal that includes “politically difficult” prohibitions on subsidies for fishing outside of countries’ own waters, as well as minimal flexibilities for developed and developing countries alike, “and elimination of fuel subsidies, the most pernicious of all harmful subsidies.”

Photo courtesy of Abbie Trayler-Smith/Greenpeace


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