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The future of fishing also under debate at the WTO

Posted Dec 15 2020 at 8:00Updated 15 Dec. 2020 at 10:04

Should we prepare to eat less fish? This is a significant long-term risk at a time when the European Union and the United Kingdom have still not reached an agreement on their respective fisheries.

Beyond this bilateral file which threatens the achievements of the common fisheries policy which was just beginning to bear fruit with the recovery of fish stocks in the North Atlantic, two organizations are looking into the international issue of fisheries resources. Starting with the World Trade Organization (WTO), which hopes to complete an agreement as soon as possible to eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Negotiations that have been ongoing for more than twenty years also aim to ban certain forms of fishing subsidies that generate overcapacity and overfishing.

Agreement in sight at the WTO

“We have made significant progressassured Monday, during a press briefing, the president of the negotiations on fisheries subsidies, Santiago Wills, the Colombian ambassador. If we were unable to complete this year as agreed, due to the pandemic crisis, we can close the deal in the near future. » The sooner the better since “Subsidies lead to fishing overcapacity, overfishing and threaten certain species”.

According to the latest FAO data, fish stocks are indeed at risk of collapsing in many parts of the world due to this overfishing. Thus 34% of world stocks would be overexploited against 10% in 1974. At this rate the fish population cannot be reconstituted. Declining stocks threaten to deepen poverty and endanger coastal communities that depend on this fishing activity. About 39 million people are affected.

Last week, a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on fisheries warned that the international community was going to miss the fourteenth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) namely conservation and sustainable use. oceans, seas and their resources. “Governments should stop subsidizing the means of fisheries production and redirect support to help fishers run their businesses more efficiently and sustainably,” warned Angel Gurría, the Secretary General of the OECD. “Countries have an opportunity in the WTO to reach an agreement. They must seize it”he pleads.

Threats to species

The organization’s report notes first of all that, of the approximately 1,120 species of fish, only two thirds display a favorable biological state and 23% unfavorable.

Part of the problem is due to current subsidy policies. Over the period analyzed between 2016 and 2018, some forty countries admitted to having further supported the sector to the tune of $9.4 billion, or around 10% of the value of catches (13.8% between 2012-2014). “More than a third of this support was intended to lower the cost of fuel, vessels and gear, which often encourages overfishing”, note the authors. This support for fuel represented 25% of total support for the sector.

Lack of transparency

For the organization, governments support their fisheries with the aim of improving the well-being of their fishermen, encouraging food production and ensuring their sustainability. This may be a laudable objective, but these support policies do not always meet socio-economic objectives in an efficient or equitable manner. They distort the economic environment of fishermen. Governments create excess capacity leading to overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. While the OECD highlights some progress over the past fifteen years in the fight against this illegal fishing, it nonetheless points to shortcomings in the transparency of vessel registration and authorization processes; the stringency of fish transshipment regulations; the traceability of products and the closure of markets to illegal fishing operators.

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