In a new report, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) emphasises the urgency of advancing negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) towards an international agreement to ban harmful government fishing subsidies and to introduce new measures to ensure the sustainability and future viability of the world's oceans.
UNEP's new publication, 'Fisheries Subsidies, Sustainable Development and the WTO' is a timely reminder that the clock is ticking and that oceans cannot wait. It reviews efforts to escalate fishing subsidies reform within the global trade body over the last decade, and focuses on the hurdles governments now face to determine which subsidies to stop and which ones to limit.
In addition to providing significant potential economic benefits, fisheries are also an important source of livelihood and food, serving as the main source of protein for nearly a billion people worldwide. Yet, 80 per cent of the world's commercial fish stocks are depleted or have been fished beyond their biological carrying capacity, and economic losses due to over-capacity and over-fishing have been estimated at USD50 billion per year.
Government subsidies have been recognised as one of the primary causes of this excessive exploitation, which in turn has threatened the integrity of the marine environment. 'This is an enormous waste of natural capital and it is threatening food security, development and the marine habitat,' said Steven Stone, Chief of UNEP's Economics and Trade Branch. 'These harmful fisheries subsidies run contrary to the very ethos of a Green Economy, which promotes investing in the environment as an engine for economic recovery and sustainable growth,' he added.
The UNEP publication underscores why government subsidies for the fishing sector must be more transparent and accountable if the rules agreed by the WTO are going to be effective. It outlines several challenges that must be addressed, including defining the scope of the subsidy prohibition, identifying exceptions that will be allowed, ensuring special and differential treatment for developing countries, and establishing fishery management requirements. It also urges all countries to take action to reform their own subsidy practices.