What is the problem?
The ocean needs our help. Harmful fisheries subsidies from governments around the world are pushing the fishing industry to fish more and more, distorting the market and directly harming local fishing communities.
Small-scale and artisanal fisheries employ 90% of all fishers, but subsidies disproportionately fund big business. For example, about 78% of total fisheries subsidies in Latin America go to industrial fleets, not small-scale operations. Harmful subsidies, estimated at more than USD 22 billion a year, artificially reduce fishing costs. Industrial fleets can then afford longer trips, sailing farther to harvest more and more fish, depleting stocks faster than they can recover.
Cheaper gasoline and free nets won’t help anyone in the long run—our current situation threatens long-term food security and livelihoods around the world. More than 820 million people depend on fisheries and aquaculture for food, nutrition, and income. And as our population grows, so does demand.
The trend doesn’t look good—the share of overexploited stocks has tripled since the 1970s. WTO member took a major step forward in June 2022 when the concluded negotiations for a legally binding Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies. But for this agreement to deliver on its promise, governments must ratify the treaty and put it into practice.
How can we stop it?
We have a great opportunity right now to end harmful fisheries subsidies. Over seven years ago, United Nations member adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. SDG 14, one of 17 goals, focuses on Life Below Water, and one of the most attainable SDG 14 targets is to prohibit subsidies that overexploit fish stocks.
WTO members at last have a deal in place. But until they ratify it and implement its provisions, we won’t see the change we need for our ocean and the people whose livelihoods rely on it.
If we phase out these subsidies responsibly, unsustainable fishing can be controlled, and fish stocks should start to recover. Recovering stocks will eventually boost catch opportunities and revenues for remaining fishing vessels, allowing them to succeed without the need for government subsidies.
Eliminating these subsidies will not require money. Rather, this would free up resources for governments to invest in sustainable fisheries, aquaculture, and coastal communities. It is critical that we take meaningful action now to renew the health of our ocean and sustain fisherpeople and the populations who depend on them.