okonjoiweala17_Yao FengVCG via Getty Images_overfishing Yao Feng/VCG via Getty Images

A Golden Opportunity to End Destructive Fishing Subsidies

For years, WTO members have failed to forge an agreement to limit fishing subsidies, thereby allowing the continuation of ecologically devastating fishing operations that would otherwise be economically unviable. But with another round of negotiations this month, they have a chance to make up for lost time.

GENEVA – It is not often that trade negotiators get a chance simultaneously to protect vulnerable people and their livelihoods, promote healthier oceans, and fulfill one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. But that is exactly the opportunity awaiting trade ministers as they gather at the World Trade Organization this week to discuss new global rules limiting government support for the fishing industry.

These public subsidies incentivize overfishing, and WTO members have been debating how to limit them for 20 years now. During those long two decades, global fish stocks have decreased sharply, and poor and vulnerable artisanal fishers have suffered along with ocean ecosystems.

In 2017, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that an estimated one-third of global fish stocks were overfished, an increase from 10% in 1970 and 27% in 2000. The depletion of fish stocks threatens the food security of low-income coastal communities and the livelihoods of poor and vulnerable fishers, who must travel farther and farther from shore only to bring back smaller and smaller hauls.

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