Trade and Environment Review 2016

Fish Trade

For the first time, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have created a stand-alone charter that addresses the health of marine resources and ecosystems, with specific regard for fish.

SDG 14 brings international attention to the overexploitation of oceans and marine resources to the extent that their sustainability and resilience is threatened on a global scale. In particular it points to a pressing need for the international community to address the issue of the conservation and the rebuilding of global fish stocks that have been so quickly depleted.

UNCTAD's 2016 Trade and Environment Review examines issues pertinent to the promotion of sustainable use of living marine resources in healthy oceans and seas, bringing together a collection of independent articles by 24 leading experts and practitioners on fish governance systems; fish harvest, production and consumption; unsustainable fishing practices; fish and marine ecosystems management; and fish trade. The Review provides a succinct diagnosis of some of the key challenges to be faced in addressing SDG 14, as well as novel suggestions and innovations to advance its implementation.

In order to avert what could be considered the first global tragedy of the commons, TER16 promotes the creation of a global monitoring and review process (a High-Level United Nations Conference) in order to complement the effective implementation of existing global governance frameworks that provide the legal basis consisting of rights and obligations of Member States over life on seas and for the development of sustainable fisheries on the advancement of trade-related targets under SDG 14.

Further, the Review contends that trade-related measures should seek to strengthen the implementation of the existing international legal regime for fisheries, in particular that multilateral, regional and bilateral trade agreements should build on multilateral United Nations instruments seeking oceans conservation and sustainable fisheries, along with stronger links between obligations and technical cooperation and capacity building in these agreements. TER16 points towards the prohibition under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) of the most harmful fishing subsidies and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing as a clear way forward.

The Review also looks to the future of the fish trade, providing a prognosis of international trade in fish and fish products until 2035 and identifying three key trends: the selective and incremental incorporation of marine life and fish conservation measures in the multilateral trading system, particular into regional trade agreements; non-tariff measures including sustainability standards, traceability, eco-labeling as the primary factors shaping market conditions for fish and fish products; and the increased output off aquaculture in the face of stagnant wild harvests.

Accordingly, it will be increasingly important for international collaboration for the mapping, convergence and harmonization of NTMs, identifying minimum requirements for social sustainability, and creating flexible frameworks for developing countries to facilitate value addition and stimulate the emergence of new production networks the TER contends. Indeed, a fundamental message of the Review is that fish management systems should be designed to prevent overfishing and overcapacity reduce by-catch and non-targeted species, and promote recovery of overfished stocks.

It is widely recognized that the continuation of benefits from oceans and fisheries depends on the health of oceans and the sustainability and resilience of marine living resources. Fish stocks in particular, are facing unprecedented sustainability risks as a result anthropogenic pressures such as overfishing due to overcapacity of fishing fleets, IUU fishing, certain fisheries subsidies, destructive fishing practices, climate change and ecosystem degradation. According to the FAO, more than 85 per cent of global fish stocks are fully exploited or overexploited.

The Review addresses the matter of harmful incentives, primarily in terms of IUU fishing and fisheries subsidies, as an important part of the toolkit to restore fish populations, foster sustainable fisheries and deliver substantial economic and social gains.

The Review proposes developing an overarching traceability system of traded fish from vessel to final consumer, as key to arresting and eliminating IUU fishing, but notes the requirement for major upgrading of institutional and technical implementation capacities, which may be difficult for some countries with fewer financial resources. On subsidies, there should be full transparency and disclosure of all fisheries subsidies, which should be classified in order to identify and distinguish those that are harmful or not.

Efforts to discipline capacity-enhancing subsidies should be exerted at the national, regional and global levels of governance and, given previous intransience on this issue, a group of countries in partnership with organizations such as the WTO, UNCTAD and the FAO could stimulate collective actions with bottom-up voluntary commitments to subsidy reform.

The Trade and Environment Review 2016 continues UNCTAD's work in the area of the oceans economy, which was recently strengthened by a new mandate in the Nairobi Maafikiano agreed at UNCTAD 14th Ministerial Conference.