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 worldwide, 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. Meanwhile, although addressing harmful fisheries subsidies has been on the WTO’s agenda for nearly twenty years, leaders have not reached an agreement—yet.
How can we stop it?
We have a great opportunity right now to rethink harmful fisheries subsidies. Five years ago, the United Nations 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 contribute to overfishing.
For two years, WTO members have been working intently to reach a deal. The groundwork has been laid—leaders have a strong mandate and more than enough information to reach a meaningful decision.
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.