By Sharon Atieno

As World Ocean Day is commemorated, global rules to curb overfishing and prevent loss of global fish stocks are underway.

A ministerial meeting to be held on 15th July, 2021 could see new rules that prohibit subsidies that threaten the sustainability of fishing. These include: subsidies on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and certain forms of  subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, among others.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, chair of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations, called on the 164 members of the organization to deliver a long-awaited agreement to curb funding for harmful fishing.

“Two decades is too long for ending subsidies that finance the relentless overexploitation of our ocean. Governments need to deliver a WTO fisheries subsidies agreement now,” Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said.

“Members have made real progress but we’re not there yet. Next month, trade ministers from around the world will meet virtually to look at these negotiations. We must seize this opportunity to narrow the remaining gaps,” she added.

Dr. Ngozi during the DG selection
Photo credits: WTO

Ambassador Wills, referring to he circulated in preparation for the virtual meeting of ministers, noted: “It will take hard decisions from the 164 members, but it is doable. We now have a complete negotiating text in front of us to help close the gaps.”

He said the draft text proposes landing zones for an agreement based on members’ collective work. Since the new text was circulated, members have been holding meetings dedicated to a specific theme each week.

“Members are working hard getting the text as close as possible to a draft on which ministers can make the remaining political calls. With the finish line so close at hand, I trust members will rise to the occasion and together make a difference. The ocean is calling, and we must not let her down,” the chair said.

WTO Chairperson on fishing subsidies negotiations
photo credits: WTO

According to the latest data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), fish stocks are at the risk of collapsing in many parts of the world due to overexploitation. It is estimated that 34% of global stocks are overfished compared with 10% in 1974, meaning they are being exploited at a pace where the fish population cannot replenish itself.

“WTO rules on fishing subsidies will help to prevent the collapse of global fish stocks. We need these rules for the sake of the environment, food security and livelihoods worldwide. It’s time to turn the tide in favour of ocean health and a globally sustainable blue economy,” she said.

First launched in 2001, WTO discussions on fisheries subsidies were given a new push in 2015 when the international community made concluding a WTO agreement a target of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference held in Buenos Aires in 2017 reiterated the call for a fisheries subsidies agreement.

Under these mandates, members are working to secure an agreement on disciplines to eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, with special and differential treatment being an integral part of the negotiations.