The 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that gathered representatives from 164 countries in Geneva this week, has made progress in the issue of harmful fishing subsidies.

In her closing speech, WTO Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said:

“The agreement prohibits support for Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. It bans support for fishing in overfished stocks. And it takes a first but significant step forward to curb subsidies for overcapacity and overfishing by ending subsidies for fishing on the unregulated high seas. As important as the prohibitions is the transparency that will finally shed light on the actual level of subsidies going to fishing. And you have committed to further negotiations to build on these disciplines.”

Charles Clover, executive director of Blue Marine Foundation applauded the historic move to limiting harmful fishing subsidies, in the hope that it marks the beginning of the end to overfishing.

“The world has been travelling hopefully towards a global agreement to limit subsidies for fishing since the first, abortive, meeting of the WTO in 2000 – I was there as a reporter in the mist of pepper spray and CS gas that accompanied the demonstrations around the Seattle meeting.  For far too long subsidising overfishing has been one of the most egregious instances of mismanagement and pandering to powerful interests,” he said.

“So any agreement on limiting fisheries subsidies after so long – and two years after it was meant to be concluded – is still a huge achievement.  There appears to have been some serious progress made on some of the biggest issues facing overfishing, especially around illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and fishing in the high seas. We are extremely pleased to see a ban on support for fishing overfished stocks – these steps should lead to significant progress. There are fleets, many from powerful and wealthy nations,  who should be looking at what they do very carefully after today.   Agreement on limiting subsidies where stocks are overfished, and greater transparency over what subsidies are actually being given, will be a huge influence over time. 

“The commitment to further talks on what constitute harmful subsidies is also very welcome.”

Read Can the World Trade Organisation finally spring the subsidy trap? to find out more about the issues with fishing subsidies which have been a thorn in the side of the WTO for decades.

Read the closing speech of the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in full here.