A Man-made Tragedy: The Overexploitation of Fish Stocks

24 February 2017

In a video blog, Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, makes an appeal to stop the tragedy already happening in our oceans - the overexploitation of fish stocks is a man-made tragedy and a shared problem.



Not all of us are alive to this problem. But for tens of millions of people in coastal communities all around the world, it's a disaster.

Fish is an invaluable resource for food security, export and income generation. It is key to the livelihoods of millions of people, especially coastal populations.

Today, over 3 billion people rely on the oceans and seas and their resources.

Nearly 60 million people are involved in fisheries and aquaculture. About 97% of the world's fishermen live in developing countries. Fishing is a major source of food and income to them.

The tragedy of the seas compromises, in many ways, our ambitions for a better world by 2030. One of them is our pledge that no man, no woman, no child should live with the agonizing feeling of an empty stomach. Today, nearly 800 million people live with this feeling.

Zero hunger is the goal and fish is an important means to it.

Fish is one of the most traded commodities worldwide. Exports of fish and seafood products reached a record value of 146 billion us$ in 2014 - this is a more than a tenfold growth in 10 years.

But fish is not an infinite resource.

Close to 90% of the world's marine fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted. Basically we have reached the limits of perhaps one of the last natural harvesting human activities on the planet.

Half of the fish stocks off the West African coast for example are overharvested.

Yet many developed countries are spending tons of billions of dollars in subsidies and other support measures for their fishing enterprises. Many of these directly contribute to overfishing.

These subsidies make no sense for the economy or the environment.

They support the extraction of a depleted resource.

They benefit the owners of big industrial fleets, while destroying food security and livelihoods for vulnerable coastal communities.

If we keep on like this, we'll have no fish left to trade, and thus to eat. Today's fish trade is not sustainable.

Eliminating harmful subsidies is not the only solution, but it is critical to making our fisheries sustainable.

In July 2016, during UNCTAD's 14th ministerial conference, UNCTAD, FAO, and UNEP proposed a roadmap to eliminate harmful subsidies. It has four steps:

  1. Countries provide information on their subsidies.
  2. The global community then prohibits those subsidies which contribute to overfishing and illegal fishing.
  3. The global community introduces policy tools to deter harmful subsidies.
  4. The global community provides special and differential treatment to developing countries.

More than 90 nations and several intergovernmental and civil society organizations signed up to this roadmap. And we're looking for more support.

If more countries can sign up, we could build a solid base for a consensual solution on fisheries subsidies at the 11th WTO ministerial conference in 2017.

The clock is ticking against us. We do not have the luxury of time.

With your support, we can end these dangerous subsidies.

With your support we can stop a tragedy already happening in the seas.