By Sharon Atieno

With more than half of the world’s ocean being overfished, African countries have been urged to ratify the fisheries subsidies agreement being proposed by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, WTO’s Director General said during a press briefing with journalists in Geneva, Switzerland at the sidelines of WTO Public Forum.

Overfishing- catching fish faster than their ability to be replenished- affects almost 90% of global marine fish stocks.

The Fisheries Subsidies Agreement which was adopted by Member States in 2022 advocates for three main goals including curbing subsidies to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, prohibiting subsidies to fishing on overfished stocks and on the unregulated high seas.

Under IUU fishing, the Agreement prohibits subsidies for fishing or fishing-related activities when an IUU determination is made by a coastal Member, a flag State Member, or a relevant Regional Fisheries Management Organization/Arrangement (RFMO/A), within their respective competence.

It also provides procedural guidance regarding how an IUU determination triggers the subsidy prohibition, as well as the proportionality of the IUU determination.

To trigger the prohibition, coastal state IUU determinations are subject to notification and information exchange provisions, and IUU listings by RFMO/As are subject to their own applicable procedures and international law, including notification and provision of information.

Concerning proportionality, the subsidizing Member is to take into account the nature, gravity and repetition of the IUU fishing committed when setting the duration of the prohibition, which is to be at least as long as the sanction resulting from the IUU determination.

With regards to subsidies on overfished stocks, the Agreement prohibits subsidies for fishing or fishing-related activities regarding a stock in an overfished condition as determined by a coastal Member or RFMO/A within its competence.

It also allows a Member to continue providing subsidies for fishing an overfished stock only if the subsidy is for rebuilding the stock, or other measures are implemented for this purpose.

Under the subsidies provided to fishing or fishing-related activities in the unregulated high seas, the Agreement prohibits subsidies provided to fishing or fishing-related activities outside the jurisdiction of a coastal Member or a coastal non-Member, and outside the competence of a relevant RFMO/A, that is, in areas and for species not covered by that RFMO/A.

For the Agreement to be operational, two-thirds of the Member States, about 110 Members, have to ratify it. So far only the 43 Member States have ratified it. Of these Nigeria, Gabon and Seychelles are the only African countries.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said that this Agreement if ratified will halt depletion of fish stocks in the oceans for posterity’s sake as well as to protect the livelihoods of millions of people depending on the fisheries sector, especially in developing countries.

“The longer we wait the more overfishing there is,” she said.

Additionally, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala noted that WTO is rallying rich countries to help set up a fisheries fund with the aim of generating US$ 20 million to help developing countries build their capacity to implement the Agreement. However, these countries first have to ratify for them to get the assistance.

If ratified by the Member States, the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement will have helped to attain one of the targets of the sustainable development goal (SDG) 14 specifically, target 6 which calls for prohibiting certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminating subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing, and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiation by 2020.