WWF welcomes long-awaited WTO agreement to curb harmful fisheries subsidies

Posted on June, 17 2022

  • Agreement lays groundwork for further subsidies reform amid growing calls to stop overfishing
GENEVA, Switzerland (17 June 2022) – WWF welcomes the significant and long-awaited decision from the World Trade Organization to prohibit certain harmful fisheries subsidies and urges members to continue to work toward a global framework for fisheries that emphasizes equity, sustainable development and resilience-building for both people and nature.

The new Agreement of Fisheries Subsidies reached at the 12th Ministerial Conference includes provisions to limit some harmful subsidies for fishing overfished stocks; subsidies for illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; and subsidies for vessels fishing on the unregulated high seas.

The agreement is intended to reform and redirect some of the US$22 billion in annual subsidies that result in destructive overfishing practices. These practices, in coastal waters and on the high seas, degrade the resources coastal communities depend on, and jeopardise the future of the industry they set out to support. Today, one-third of fish populations are already exploited beyond sustainable levels.

“The new agreement is the product of compromise among 164 countries, so it’s not perfect,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “But the ocean needs help now, and marine ecosystems as well as coastal communities cannot wait for a perfect solution. What the WTO has delivered is an agreement that should be a catalyst for further subsidy and fisheries reform.

“Countries can leverage this momentum heading into the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon at the end of the month to further raise the ambition to achieve a nature-positive and sustainable future.”

The new agreement comes after more than two decades of negotiations. WWF first urged subsidies reform in 1997 and today is among more than 180 organisations pushing for the removal of harmful fisheries subsidies that drive overfishing. 

Almost 85% of capacity enhancing subsidies go to large-scale, industrial fisheries, with little evidence of benefits flowing to small-scale fishers. WTO members committed to continue discussions to further reforms, particularly on issues of overfishing and overcapacity. 

“In the two decades since WWF first started working on fisheries subsidies reform, we have witnessed a catastrophic decline in biodiversity and planetary health,” said Lambertini. “Today we welcome the progress made by WTO members and tireless campaigners around the world, but let’s not forget that much more needs to be done to change course and help put us on the path to a healthier ocean and more resilient communities.”



Notes to Editors

The need to reform fisheries subsidies was recognized in the late 1990s, with the WTO acknowledging, “Fisheries subsidies are widespread, trade distorting, and undermine the sustainable use of fish resources.” In 1997, WWF worked with the UN Environment Programme to sponsor the first international conference on the link between subsidies and fisheries depletion, and in 1998 produced “The Footprint of Distant Water Fleets on World Fisheries,” helping raise awareness of the role of harmful subsidies in underwriting overfishing.

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