World Trade Organization Continues to Allow Subsidized Overfishing   - Oceana

World Trade Organization Continues to Allow Subsidized Overfishing  

Oceana says the WTO is playing politics with the lives of millions of people who depend on healthy fish populations for their livelihoods and food security.

Press Release Date: March 1, 2024

Location: Washington, DC

Contact:

Anna Baxter | email: abaxter@oceana.org
Anna Baxter

This week, at the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 13th ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi, ministers were unable to finalize an addendum to its Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies that had the potential to curb harmful fisheries subsidies that lead to overfishing. This setback extends the WTO’s two-decade-long streak of failing to prohibit harmful subsidies, a commitment it first took up at the 2001 Doha Ministerial Conference.  

Oceana’s Senior Analyst Dr. Daniel Skerritt says, “This outcome is not just disappointing; it’s a dire blow to global marine biodiversity. Our governments are failing to look beyond their own short-term self-interest, prioritizing political posturing above reaching an agreement that would benefit everyone. The WTO’s continued failure to prohibit subsidy-driven overcapacity and overfishing jeopardizes the lives of millions of people who depend on healthy fish populations for their livelihoods and food security.”  

According to research supported by Oceana, harmful fisheries subsidies from the world’s top fishing nations disproportionately impact the vulnerable developing nations that depend on fish for food security and livelihoods. The draft agreement included measures that could have helped rectify this global imbalance. Without them, these practices will continue.  

Oceana Board Member and leading fisheries economist Dr. Rashid Sumaila says, “Today most fish stocks are either fully exploited or overfished. Without fish, it’s game over. Given the massive effort by so many since 2001, the WTO’s failure to take effective action this week to remove overfishing subsidies questions whether the organization is capable of addressing these subsidies at all.” 

Oceana is calling for members to shift their focus to first ratify and then strengthen the first agreement, which at least prohibits subsidies for illegal fishing and fishing on depleted fish stocks. To date, 70 members have accepted the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement, meaning 40 acceptances remain for the agreement to enter into force.  

Once ratified, the agreement’s sunset clause — a provision that mandates the termination of the agreement if comprehensive disciplines are not established within four years — will come into effect. This clause is not just a safeguard against perpetual failed WTO negotiations; it’s a clear deadline, injecting much-needed urgency into the process.  

“This mechanism offers a glimmer of hope, providing a concrete timeline to end the two-decade-long stalemate and forces the WTO to prove its commitment to global sustainability. Now it’s up to members to ratify and implement the agreement. The world is watching,” added Skerritt.   

ABOUT OCEANA: 

Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-quarter of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 300 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, oil and plastic pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles, whales, and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit Oceana.org to learn more.