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Trawler off Kilkeel, Scotland (Photo: Albert Bridge/Wikimedia)
Trawler off Kilkeel, Scotland (Photo: Albert Bridge/Wikimedia)

Without subsidies, many fisheries would have to close down because with increasingly depleted fish stocks, the fishing effort is greater than the economic return.

In the last decade, the fishing industry in the western countries alone has been subsidised to the tune of at least 10 billion US dollars per year, estimates the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Other estimates of the global fisheries subsidies amount to 14 to 35 billion US dollars per year—according to the German Foundation for the Protection of the Sea, this is more than one third of global fishing costs. Without subsidies, many fisheries would have to close down because the fishing effort is greater than the economic return as fish stocks become increasingly depleted. Subsidies to the fishing industry from Japan, Spain, China, South Korea and the USA are particularly high—far higher than fishing revenues.

Fisheries subsidies are an important driver of progressive overfishing. At the same time, they promote the consumption of marine diesel, which places an additional burden on the fish habitat and the climate. EU fisheries alone pollute the atmosphere with almost 7.3 million tonnes of CO2 every year, estimates the organisation Our Fish—supported with up to 1.5 billion euros in subsidies per year. Quite apart from the fact that fisheries subsidies—which mainly flow into industrial fisheries—finance the systematic torment of more than a thousand billion animals every year. From a purely economic point of view, these subsidies are also nonsense. They lead to a loss of net benefits amounting to 89 billion US dollars.

For twenty years, the states negotiated a cap on subsidies for their fishing industries. In June 2022, the ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) finally reached an agreement. For it to come into force, two thirds of the WTO member countries must ratify it.

The ministers were unable to agree on a general ban.The agreement aims at legal and sustainable fishing, praises Alice Tipping of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), but points out the gaps in the agreement. For example, it is at the discretion of the subsidising state for how long they want to suspend the subsidy to an illegal fishery. The ministers could not agree on rules that would generally prohibit subsidising overcapacity and overfishing. However, the agreement contains a mechanism for further development; overall, it gives cause for hope.



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