The Beacon

Global Ocean Commission Calls for High Seas Fuel Subsidy Elimination

An illegal driftnet vessel catching a swordfish. (Photo: Oceana / Juan Ceutos)

The Global Ocean Commission, an independent initiative comprised of 17 government and business leaders from around the world, called for extensive international reform for high seas management in a new report released on Tuesday. The report, “From Decline to Recovery: A Rescue Package for the Global Ocean,” calls on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to reach a “speedy agreement” to eliminate fuel subsidies for high seas fishing, among other recommendations to restore ocean health and abundance.

“Eliminating fuel subsidies is one of the greatest actions that can be taken to protect the world’s oceans,” Oceana chief of staff Courtney Sakai said in a press release. “High seas and distant water fishing fleets would not be profitable, and able to continue overfishing, without the egregious government fuel subsidies that allow them to traverse the oceans.”

The Commission also asked the WTO to quickly adopt full transparency by disclosing the type and scope of subsidies they provide to the fisheries sector, and to identify those programs that are essential in the phase-out of negative financial incentives. The WTO has failed to produce an agreement on fisheries subsidies over the past decade.

“The Commission’s call to eliminate high seas fuel subsidies is a much needed push on the WTO to take action to address harmful fisheries subsidies,” Sakai said.

Many fish species found in deep waters are long-lived and slow-growing, making them particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Overfishing is worsened by the fuel subsidies that keep fleets at sea—which amount to an estimated $35 billion annually, of which at least $20 billion directly supports increased fishing capacity.

The high seas—waters that extend past a nation’s Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) about 200 nautical miles offshore—provide the equivalent of billions of dollars in natural ecosystem services, but they’re incredibly mismanaged, polluted, and overfished. Earlier this month, the Global Ocean Commission released another report outlining the importance of the high seas, like carbon removal and sustenance. The group was commissioned to conduct the report after the latest International Panel of Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report found that the high seas needed urgent examination, according to National Geographic.

For more than five years, Oceana has campaigned for the WTO to adopt trade rules that control fishery subsidies by creating advertising campaigns, holding technical briefings, and hosting media events. Additionally, Oceana campaigns to reduce bycatch and tackle illegal fishing throughout the world’s oceans. To learn more about our efforts, click here.


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