OECD: Urgent policy reform is needed to scale-up fisheries’ productivity and sustainability

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Ensuring the long-term health and productivity of the world’s fisheries will require governments to both build up the stocks that fall short of their potential and to dispense with harmful subsidies that are providing a platform for unsustainable and illegal operations, according to a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Assessing the health and productivity of fish stocks and exploring how to better manage them, the “OECD Review of Fisheries 2022” maintains such a change in tack will improve fisheries’ productivity and economic returns. This will in turn make them better able to meet increasing food security needs as well as the challenges posed by climate change and biodiversity threats, it said.

According to the international body, which has a membership of 38 countries, while 64 percent of 1,456 assessed fish stocks are in “good health,” many could still produce more food or more value for fishers if they were enabled to be more abundant. The review also points out that 258 stocks, or 18 percent of the world total, fall short of sustainability standards, and another 18 percent (259 stocks) have an undetermined status, as their assessments were inconclusive.

Global governments and fisheries managers should look to implement rebuilding plans for stocks that don’t have them in place, OECD said in its paper. They might also consider reviewing current management actions to help rebuild stocks where plans are in place, it added. At the same time, OECD recommends they do more to ensure fish stocks already in good health are fished optimally to maximize harvest volume and value.

OECD said that with the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreeing in 2022 to prohibit some of the most-harmful types of fisheries subsidies, now is a good time to implement reforms, but added that more must be done to curb illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, overfishing, and fishing in the unregulated high seas.

OECD calculated that on an annual basis, USD 10.4 billion (EUR 9.6 billion) in public money goes to support the fisheries of the 40 countries covered in its Fisheries Support Estimate (FSE) database, which collectively account for about 90 percent of the world’s fish landings. Together, they caught about 58 million metric tons (MT) of fish in marine waters in 2020, with a total landed value of around USD 83 billion (EUR 76.7 billion).

OECD’s report states that overall, 42 percent of the support provided to these countries from 2018-2020 presented no risk of encouraging unsustainable fishing, as it was mainly targeted at ensuring productive and sustainable fisheries through spending on management, monitoring, control, and surveillance (MMCS). Having increased over time, spending on MMCS is now the largest form of support in these countries, according to OECD. But in emerging economies, 53 percent of the support provided over the same period came from policies that present a high risk of encouraging unsustainable fishing in the absence of effective fisheries management.

The paper proposes a framework to identify government support that could support IUU or unsustainable fishing, which would then result in better targeting of support or the creation of alternative means of support rather than subsidies with the potential to be harmful. But it acknowledged the difficulty and cost of regularly assessing whether individual recipients of support are operating in sustainably-managed fisheries. In the absence of such a framework, OECD recommends countries adopt a “precautionary approach” that takes them away from any policy that could put their fish stocks at risk.

“Eliminating support that can present a high risk of encouraging unsustainable fishing will also have beneficial impacts on the equity of the fisheries sector and its resilience to shocks,” the report said. “Money can be repurposed for sustainable fisheries management, enforcement, and research into the health of fish stocks and the impact of climate change.”

OECD urged governments to adopt the WTO agreement on fisheries subsidies and to work to do more to eliminate other potentially harmful subsidies, such as those that encourage overcapacity and overfishing, including through the implementation of transparency initiatives.

It noted countries providing the greatest levels of support to their fisheries tend to have the largest fisheries sectors. The six economies of China, Japan, the United States, Canada, Brazil, and the European Union accounted for 86 percent of all the support reported in the FSE for 2018-2020. This same six were each in the top seven in terms of global catch volume, fleet capacity, and employment over that time period.

Following these, India, Norway, and Poland individually accounted for 2 to 3 percent of total reported support, while Denmark, Italy, Korea, and Sweden each accounted for 1 to 2 percent. The remaining countries and economies in the FSE database each accounted for less than 1 percent.

OECD countries reporting to the FSE delivered support totaling an average USD 5.11 billion (EUR 4.7 billion) per year in the period 2018-2020, which equated to USD 5,163 (EUR 4,753) per fisher in that period.

Having increased over time, spending on MMCS is now the largest type of support in the OECD support policy mix, accounting for 42 percent of the support provided over 2018-2020, followed by spending on infrastructure (19 percent), income support (12 percent), and fuel support (8 percent).

By comparison, emerging economies’ fuel support averaged 33 percent of their total support, followed by income support (15 percent), infrastructure spending (5 percent), and MMCS (4 percent). Together, the emerging economies covered in the FSE database provided an average USD 4 billion (EUR 3.7 billion) per year in support over 2018-2020, which is equivalent to USD 222 (EUR 204) per fisher.

Photo courtesy of 360b/Shutterstock


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