Fighting fisheries subsidies high on WTO agenda

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Tuna longline fishing vessel. Picture: FILE

Work to curb harmful fisheries subsidies is high on the agenda of the World Trade Organization’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) which kicks off in Abu Dhabi today.

In its briefing notes on the meeting, the world trade body noted the urgency of addressing what has become an “alarming” state of exploitation of global fishery.

“With around 260 million people depending directly or indirectly on marine fisheries for their livelihoods, the threat of overfishing to fish stocks worldwide is alarming,” the WTO stated.

“It is estimated that at least 34 per cent of global stocks are overfished compared with 10 per cent in 1974, meaning they are being exploited so quickly that the fish population cannot replenish itself.

“Government funding — currently estimated at $US35 billion ($F78b) per year globally, of which some $US22billion ($F49b) increases the capacity to fish unsustainably — continues to aggravate this dire situation by enabling many fishing fleets to operate longer and farther at sea than they otherwise could, to the detriment of marine life.”

Ahead of MC13, WTO’s work on fisheries subsidies is proceeding on two tracks, it said.

First, the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, adopted by members at last year’s 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva, must enter into force, requiring two-thirds of WTO members to take the formal steps to adopt what they agreed to in 2022.

“Well over half of the 110 needed acceptances are in hand, and many members are aiming to deposit their instruments at MC13,” WTO noted.

“The new WTO Fisheries Funding Mechanism, furthermore, will be available to provide technical assistance to developing and least-developed countries to implement the Agreement’s provisions and manage their fisheries sustainably.”

The second track of work, WTO added, concerns the “second wave” of negotiations to formulate additional disciplines targeting subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing, along with corresponding provisions for special and differential treatment to address the needs of developing and least-developed country members.

Fiji and neighbouring Pacific states, who are directly impacted by fishing trends as most of the world’s tuna come from the Pacific ocean, are expected to put up a united front against fisheries subsidies.

Latest data from the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, of which Fiji is a member, showed that provisional total tuna catch for 2021 in the Pacific was estimated at close to 2.5million metric tonnes, which represented “87 per cent of the total Pacific Ocean tuna catch of 2.8 million mt and 56 per cent of the global tuna catch of 4.4million mt”.

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