On World Ocean Day, June 8, 2022, the Stop Funding Overfishing coalition, representing 182 leading non-governmental organizations, installed an ice sculpture of fish at Place des Nations in Geneva in support of a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement to curb a key driver of overfishing: harmful fisheries subsidies.
The timing of this event is significant—this year, World Ocean Day comes less than one week before the WTO’s Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12) is set to begin on June 12.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and fisheries subsidies negotiations chair, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, unveiled the sculpture alongside Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, Dona Bertarelli, UNCTAD Special Advisor for the Blue Economy and co-chair of the Bertarelli Foundation, and Stop Funding Overfishing organizers.
“There is movement. Some of the chapters and issues we thought a few weeks ago or even months that we couldn’t solve are getting solved,” said Okonjo-Iweala. “So we’re cautiously optimistic.”
“Considerable progress has been made in the last few weeks. We need the last, final push,” said Wills. “There’s billions of people who depend, directly or indirectly on the oceans… so this is really something that we need to get done.
He emphasized that a legally binding agreement in the WTO could be “the single most important milestone for ocean sustainability this year.”
After more than 20 years of negotiations, WTO members could finally reach a deal to end harmful fisheries subsidies at MC12, fulfilling their mandate as set out in Target 6 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal for the Ocean, SDG 14.
“20 years of discussions are enough. The ministers have a deal on the table and this week is the moment to come with an agreement,” said Bertarelli.
“The ocean is in crisis,” said Lambertini. “And we have a historic opportunity to take away one of the key drivers of ocean depletion: the subsidies that drive overfishing.”
The Stop the Fish Meltdown action demonstrated strong public support for a fisheries subsidies agreement and reminded trade ministers of the urgent need to reel in a deal at MC12.
“There’s real momentum in the talks on fisheries subsidies and I think we’re actually getting very close to what could be a milestone moment for Geneva, for the international trading system, and for the oceans,” said Alice Tipping, Lead of Sustainable Trade and Fisheries Subsidies at the International Institute for Sustainable Development.
“This could be the week where we see how powerful multilateralism can be to catalyze collective action on an issue that matters, not only to governments, but to people around the world.”