Deconstructing the excuses that hinder an agreement to end harmful fisheries subsidies / by Francisco Blaha

I know I rant a lot against subsidies… but a man has to have his principles, and I really despise subsidies… I would only consider them if they were use to supplement the exploitative wages that crew from developing countries get paid.. and even so I would need to think a lot about it.

Crews worldwide would love just to access a mere 1% of the estimated 34 billion USD a year their bosses get

Crews worldwide would love just to access a mere 1% of the estimated 34 billion USD a year their bosses get

In any case, my reference in terms of subsidies Rashid Sumaila (who is always very generous in sending me copies of the article) got another nice and short paper with Andres M. Cisneros-Montemayor as lead author. The deconstruct the key myths around subsidies, right in time for the WTO negotiations.

As usual read the original, i just quote here my favourite parts:

Globally, ~US$34 billion in subsidies are granted to marine fisheries,  and fully 64% of these are capacity-enhancing—otherwise known as “harmful”—subsidies including for fuel, vessel construction, and gear replacement. The most important effort to discipline these harmful subsidies is the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) commitment—mandated since 2001 and due December 2019, and reiterated in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6—to reach a multilateral and legally binding agreement to eliminate subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfished stocks, and to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fisheries . These may seem like logical and quite low bars, and yet the political, economic, and operational complexities of fisheries around the world do pose real challenges to plucking even these low hanging fruits.

To succeed, WTO negotiators, supported by their national experts, must resolve these challenges. Amidst these discussions, however, some points used to argue against reforms are questionable at best and myths otherwise. Here, we bust some of these myths with the aim of helping WTO negotiators and their ministries avoid such distractions so they can focus on the real issues which must be addressed. These include avoiding loopholes that would negate a truly effective agreement; highlighting types of beneficial subsidies that could be allowed and that could better support artisanal and subsistence fisheries; and the many synergistic relationships between fisheries subsidy disciplines and existing trade, environmental, social, and economic policies and legislation. The following are some particularly distracting arguments against subsidy disciplines that we have encountered, with concise rebuttals based on existing evidence.

Myth 1: Capacity-enhancing subsidies are needed to compete with large fishing nations
The top 5 subsidizing maritime countries provide an estimated $19.3 billion per year (including both beneficial and harmful subsidies) to their fisheries, four times the total amount budgeted by all of the lower income nations combined. Low-income developing countries simply cannot outspend major fishing nations to win a race to fish that only leads to the infamous Prisoner’s Dilemma outcome where everyone loses. To truly level the playing field, a subsidy discipline agreement is needed that curtails capacity-enhancing subsidies that cause overfishing, enable encroachment into other regions, and sustain fleets which would not otherwise be profitable.

Myth 2: Capacity-enhancing subsidies are important for alleviating poverty
Many governments argue that they need to provide capacity-enhancing subsidies to help poor fishers and thereby alleviate poverty.

This argument is self-defeating for several reasons. First, capacity-enhancing subsidies are known to deplete fish stocks, thereby eroding the resource base that coastal communities depend on, increasing poverty as a result. Second, fuel subsidies—the most common type of capacity-enhancing subsidy—are a highly inefficient form of support; for every dollar spent on fuel subsidies, there is only a 10-cent increase in income for fishers . Third, subsidies in all countries are mainly granted to the large-scale industrial sector, with 84% of total subsidies allocated to them instead of artisanal fisheries that support the vast majority of fishing livelihoods.

This means that removing and/or redirecting capacity-enhancing subsidies would support artisanal fisheries, improving their economic viability. Investments in infrastructure, public health, local governance, and alternative livelihoods would have added benefits across coastal regions, including for women, youth, and processing workers that benefit little or not at all from subsidies granted to fishing firms.

Myth 3: Assessing if overfishing is occurring should not be a condition for providing subsidies because there is limited capacity to manage or monitor stocks
Perhaps more importantly, any capacity-enhancing subsidy will have negative effects on fisheries and the environment if management and monitoring capacity are lacking, so this should perhaps preclude their use ex ante. That aside, there are multiple ways to assess the general state of stocks, some of which can be completed rapidly and with very little information (see, for example, Official and total estimated catch are also available for each of the world’s Exclusive Economic Zones, from 1950 to 2016, and can be freely downloaded at, and biological data for all species at

Myth 4: Overfishing only affects national interests, so an international agreement is unnecessary
Many fish stocks inhabit and move between multiple nations’ waters and/or the high seas; due to changing distributions as a result of climate change, new transboundary stocks are expected to be present in 35% of nations by 2100. International cooperation is thus essential for fisheries management, particularly when both marine species and fishers chasing them move across regions and jurisdictions. Beyond fish catch itself, legal or violent conflicts—including military actions—can be triggered by overfishing in neighboring regions and over 530 international conflicts over fisheries have been recorded since 1974; everyone has a stake in sustainable oceans.

Myth 5: A strong agreement is undesirable because subsidies may be needed for potential future expansions or fisheries development
Based on the history and current status of fish stocks , it is highly unlikely that there are significant unexploited stocks in most countries. Around the world, 33% of stocks are officially assessed as overexploited, 60% maximally exploited, and 7% in development. If a new, potentially profitable stock were found, investment should come from the fishing sector with the collaboration and oversight of management and monitoring institutions.

The fact that most stocks are now overexploited or maximally exploited is indeed in part due to large capacity-enhancing subsidies in previous decades that fostered overcapacity and contributed to overfishing and IUU fishing, with negative effects on the environment, fish production, and fishing incomes. While the harmful effects of capacity-enhancing subsidies are well known, they are often politically expedient and difficult to get away from even when fishing communities themselves recognize their negative impacts. And yet, there are many policy alternatives with better outcomes. These involve the decoupling of the goals of supporting coastal development and addressing poverty from outdated and harmful strategies to attempt to increase fish production; transparency and collaboration between policy planners and fishery stakeholders are key for success.

Far from constraining nations’ policy space, an agreement that limits the use of harmful subsidies can enable nations to design—in collaboration with the fishing sector—new forms of investment that can be actually beneficial for fishing communities, national economies, and marine ecosystems, both now and in the future.