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WTO needs to stay out of fisheries management

Tuna fishing in the Pacific under many challenges



SUVA, Fiji – December 14: 11.35am (PANG/Pacnews): The 11th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Buenos Aires, Argentina from December 10 to the 13th needs to stay out of fisheries management.

It is clear that some of the most powerful fishing nations who are members of the WTO are trying to circumvent decisions that will be detrimental to the domestic aspiration and sustain development of the Pacific and its already declining fisheries resources.

Fisheries subsidies is the big agenda for the WTO and for several years – in fact over a decade-  they have been trying to secure rules that will eliminate harmful subsidies that contribute to overfishing, overcapacity of vessels and pirate fishing activities.

By their very nature subsidy programs contribute to the efficiency of fishing operators and increases their profit margins.

In the Pacific it is thriving as most of the fishing on its already declining fishery is done mostly by foreign vessels and operators.

The different types of subsidies vary in terms of their application and how they are assessed whether they are good or bad depending on its use.

For the Pacific, there is a strong need to ensure that space is given (without the need to request it) to allow for subsidy programs that may contribute to sustainable development but that same space can be used excusably to harm the ocean.

The sustainability and long-term survival of the Pacific Ocean and its fishery resources needs to underpin development and it cannot be driven by a WTO that is held hostage to the economic agendas of the rich, industrial fishing nations.

Fisheries management is led by national authorities under the sovereignty and jurisdiction of which fishing takes place and as a flag state responsible for the activities of fishing operation and by relevant Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMO) – the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in the case of Tuna and highly migratory species in the Pacific.

There are sub-regional and regional arrangements as well in place in different jurisdictions that can make unilateral decisions.

There is no mandate to have the determination of management issues within the structure of the WTO; such a move would present a grave danger for the Pacific.

Such a move would see the same distant water fishing nations and development partners from Asia, the US and Europe who have big fisheries and trade interest in the Pacific using the WTO discipline mechanism to further their agenda and undermine the Pacific’s sovereign decisions on the management of its marine resources.

There are fundamental information required at a global level to even begin to measure subsidies, therefore, it is critical to focus on getting countries, relative to their capacity, to provide information on what subsidies they are providing.

This should be a priority.

The Ministerial meeting needs to list specific subsidies that are to be prohibited which are:

1.Fisheries subsidies that contribute to overfishing and overfished stocks

2.Fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity

3.Fisheries subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

For the Pacific, there is a need to secure policy space to allow for domestic development and that assistance is rendered to meet its obligations.

This is achieved by excluding the prohibitions on subsidies by Pacific Island WTO members in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), and granting them an exception for fishing in other Members EEZs.

Importantly, the need to be stern on the WTO to stay out of fisheries management.


Editor’s Note: Lagi Toribau is an independent environmental and development consultant focussing on ocean governance, fisheries management, trade and sustainable development based in Suva, Fiji. This piece is done for the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) who is actively working and campaigning in the WTO.  


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