End fishing subsidies to protect millions of jobs in developing countries

05 December 2016

Developing countries can protect millions of fisheries-related jobs by negotiating an end to fishing subsidies at a top-level World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting scheduled for December 2017, UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said on Wednesday.

In 2014, an estimated 38 million people were engaged in marine capture fisheries, including 29.7 million people in Asia, 5.4 million in Africa, and 2 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean.

However, overfishing puts global fish stocks under pressure, and many of these jobs appear unsustainable. Estimated at about $20 billion per year, harmful fishing subsidies compound the problem, by enabling industrial fishing fleets to travel to the coastal waters of developing countries and to out-compete the small-scale fishermen there.

"We all know that the world's marine fish stocks are either stagnant or declining, so how do we, the global community, justify these wasteful and damaging subsidies?" Dr. Kituyi said, ahead of the release of UNCTAD's 2016 Trade and Environment Review, which focuses on the trade in fish.

"Not only do these subsidies compound the destruction of small-scale and artisanal fisheries, they also export unemployment to developing countries," he said.

The most effective way to end these subsidies, which represent unfair competition, will be to introduce legally binding trade agreements. This is best done through the WTO, the main global institution for setting and enforcing the rules on global trade, he said.

The WTO's forthcoming ministerial conference, scheduled for December 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, offers the best multilateral opportunity to conclude such an agreement, he added.

"Instead of subsidizing the depletion of our fish stocks, with the loss of livelihoods implied, use the money to better manage fisheries and to create sustainable jobs in sectors of the oceans economy such as aquaculture or marine tourism," Dr. Kituyi said.

In July, UNCTAD, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the United Nations Environment Programme, joined forces to propose a roadmap to end harmful fisheries subsidies. The roadmap was supported by 91 member States and many civil society organizations.

UNCTAD's Trade and Environment Review identifies three main trends in the international fish trade.

First, the multilateral trading system and regional agreements will increasingly incorporate further marine life and fish conservation measures.

Second, by 2035, the wild fish catch will grow only slightly beyond current harvest levels, while the aquaculture harvest will rise substantially to meet growing demand.

Third, the fish trade will be affected less by tariffs and more by non-tariff measures, such as sustainability standards, catch certificates, traceability, eco-labeling and others.