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UN report urges fishing subsidy reform

The continuation of government fishing subsidies is damaging to the world’s oceans and should be halted, states the United Nations Environment Programme in a new publication that calls for subsidy reform. The report, Fisheries Subsidies, Sustainable Development and the WTO, finds that in many cases the subsidies encourage fishing in areas whose ecosystems are already overtaxed.

80 percent of the world’s commercial fish stocks have been depleted from overfishing, with a resultant economic loss estimated at $50 billion every year. In places of such decline in stock, a correlative decline in commercial fishing activities should be the natural result, but fisheries can apply for government subsidies which allow them to catch the few remaining fish in the area, even if it’s no longer profitable to do so.

“This is an enormous waste of natural capital and it is threatening food security, development and the marine habitat,” said Steven Stone, Chief of UNEP’s Economics and Trade Branch. “These harmful fisheries subsidies run contrary to the very ethos of a Green Economy, which promotes investing in the environment as an engine for economic recovery and sustainable growth,” he added.

A bigeye tuna caught by a longline fishing vessel. Photo by

However, getting rid of the subsidies is a tricky issue. Many families depend on them in order to survive and would need to be transitioned to another form of employment. In addition, not all subsidies are detrimental to the environment. Some fisheries practice sustainable fishing techniques.

The report focuses on the challenges the government faces in trying to figure out which subsidies to scrap, which to change, and which to leave be. In addition, it also underscores the necessity of special and deferential treatment for developing countries, the value of transparency, and urges all countries to take initiative and reform their own subsidy practices.

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