Irresponsible financing

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Shrimp fleet in harbour, Gulf of California, Mexico.
© Gustavo Ybarra / WWF-Canon
While more than a billion people worldwide depend on the oceans for food and livelihood, many governments continue to provide subsidies to their fishing fleets, resulting in the overfishing of our oceans. 

However, our vested economic interests in pursuing healthy fisheries is enormous!

Re-building commercial fish stocks and their marine habitats, adjusting fishing capacity to the limits of marine resources and shifting harmful investments towards a green economy in fisheries is an urgent challenge that lies ahead of us. 

Some government subsidies do more harm than good

Twice as many vessels catch fish as the oceans can sustain
Despite continuous international efforts, fleet overcapacity remains a fundamental problem in our waters. The global fishing fleet is far too large for the resources available and this imbalance is at the root of low economic performance, weak enforcement of legislations and overexploited fish resources.

Government subsidies are playing an important factor in the problem of overfishing.  Many governments still continue to subsidize their fleets, allowing to fish longer hours and farther away; these are the so-called "perverse subsidies" that contribute to the problem of overfishing rather than solving it.

Some unhealthy subsidies

  • indirect payments 
  • tax exemptions (eg. fuel)
  • income support programmes (eg. vessel modernization, boat building)

Benefits from making the fishing sector sustainable

What benefits would sustainable fisheries bring?

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has calculated that investing $110 billion over the coming years in strengthened fisheries management – including the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPA), the decommissioning and reduction of fleet capacity, and retraining of workers – will allow the planet’s fisheries to recover.

Such an investment, backed by strong policy measures, would result in an increase in catch levels from 80 million tons now to 90 million tons in 2050.

The world can no longer afford to delay restoring the health and wealth of the oceans. The half-billion people who depend on a healthy fishing industry, and the one billion who rely on fish as a primary source of protein, cannot wait another 20 years for the international community to act.

The benefits for the fishing sector of moving away from harmful subsidies is estimated to be 3-5 times the investment. That would be a great return on investment for both people and the oceans!


Healthy fisheries subsidies

  •  strenghtening ecosystem-based management (EBM)
  • reducing fleet capacity
  • re-training workers
  • investing in fishery and ecosystem recovery
  • establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPA)

What is WWF doing?

The World Trade Organization (WTO), the UN organisation that counts 153 country members, sets the rules for international trade. Since 2001, it has been engaged in a dedicated negotiation on fisheries subsidies as part of its Doha trade round.

WWF advocates with the WTO and its members to establish the international recognition and political commitment needed to produce new trade rules from the WTO that effectively control fisheries subsidies.

Find out more about what we are doing to ensure a sustainable future for our  fisheries.

Did you know that?


    • Taxpayers paid more than 6.4 billion dollars in subsidies to the fishing industry in the USA between 1996 and 2004 (Sharp-Sumaila study). 
    • In 2003 for example, global fisheries subsidies were estimated at US$25 - 29 billion (Sumaila et al, 2010)
    • 70% of "bad" subsidies are provided to developing countries (Sumaila, Pauly 2006)

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