WTO Members Fail Again to Stop Subsidized Overfishing | Oceana

WTO Members Fail Again to Stop Subsidized Overfishing

Press Release Date: June 17, 2022

Location: Washington, DC


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

This week, ministers from all 164 member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) failed once again to curb harmful fisheries subsidies that lead to overfishing at the 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. While Oceana says that eliminating harmful subsidies is the greatest single action that can be taken to protect the world’s oceans, the WTO has continually failed to reach a meaningful agreement since initially taking up the issue at the 2001 Doha Ministerial Conference. Since then, governments have spent over USD $400 billion globally on harmful fisheries subsidies, according to Oceana estimates. In response, Oceana’s CEO Andrew Sharpless released the following statement: Our oceans are the big loser today. After 20 years of delay, the WTO failed again to eliminate subsidized overfishing, and in turn, is allowing countries to pillage the world’s oceans. Hundreds of millions of people in coastal communities rely on fisheries for food, their health, and livelihoods, yet we see those same resources overexploited every day by heavily subsidized foreign and industrial fishing fleets. These harmful subsidies promote overfishing by enabling fleets to fish longer, harder, and farther than would otherwise be economically feasible. Today most fish stocks are either fully exploited or overfished. Governments, including the United States, China, and Russia, shouldn’t be allowed to spend hundreds of billions of dollars of public funds to deplete the world’s oceans. The WTO is losing its credibility. Member states are way overdue in adopting strict rules that eliminate harmful subsidies, which is the single greatest global action we can take to ensure a healthy and abundant ocean. This meager agreement falls demonstrably short of this target. While the possibility remains that future revisitations could yield improvement, the past 20 years have shown that time does not increase ambition. Today, WTO members have failed the ocean and those who rely on it.” 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-third of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 225 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles 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 www.oceana.org to learn more. BACKGROUND: In 2021, in part to raise awareness of the need to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies, Oceana established the Transparent Oceans Initiative (TOI), an international program dedicated to uncovering the offenses and abuses notorious to distant-water fishing fleets and catalyzing policy change to protect the ocean and fish-reliant communities. Oceana has also conducted its own analyses and commissioned several reports on the impact of subsidies and distant water fishing. Top findings of these reports include:

  • The top 10 providers of harmful fisheries subsidies spent more than $5.3 billion on fishing in the waters of other nations, and another $800 million on the high seas. The top 10 providers that account for 70% of all harmful fisheries subsidies are China, Japan, Korea, Russia, United States, Thailand, Taiwan, Spain, Indonesia, and Norway, and if considered as a bloc the European Union would place third.
  • A study shows China’s fisheries subsidies disproportionately propel its distant-water fleet
  • An Oceana analysis found evidence of 300 Chinese vessels pillaging the Galapagos for squid for more than 73,000 hours in just one month.
  • Another Oceana analysis found hundreds of foreign fishing vessels, primarily Chinese, pillaging the waters off Argentina and disappearing from public tracking systems.
  • A report in Science Advances finds fishing-related crime is highly concentrated and sanctions are often inadequate. 1/3 of all illegal activities at sea in a global database can be traced to just 20 companies and 450 industrial vessels.