Meeting on Fisheries, Trade and Development

16th June 2010 • Co-organised with UN Environment Programme

Press Article IPS
The world’s fisheries are a major global resource, providing food and livelihoods  to vast numbers of people.  The fishery sector is a cornerstone of food security and important provider of protein in developing countries in particular. As many as 140 nations have fishing fleets. Seventy-nine percent of production comes from developing countries, and the fishing efforts of emerging economies are growing rapidly. However, it is a well-known fact that the fishery sector is a sector in crises, and unless the current course of action is reversed, we are heading toward a collapse of global fisheries. The seemingly endless bounty of the seas is being rapidly depleted. Currently, 80 percent of the world’s fisheries are being fished up to or beyond their biological limits, while in 1978 this was the case for nine percent of fisheries only. Many of the large ocean predators, such as tuna, are being fished out, leading to major imbalances in marine ecosystems as a whole. This situation carries significant social, environmental and economic implications. In particular, many developing countries face depleted fish stocks, causing severe disruption of coastal economies and loss of livelihoods. Food security is threatened, just at a time when dealing with the effects of climate change calls will require all available avenues for feeding populations. The reasons for this crisis are also well known and accepted. The sector is suffering the consequences of a major governance failure, and is plagued by structural inefficiencies. Specifically, subsidies have led to serious overcapacity, while catches per vessel and per unit of capacity are continually going down. Considering this stark backdrop, the fisheries negotiations under the WTO Doha Round provide a promising avenue for dealing with some of the underlying issues that have led to the fisheries crises -subsidies in particular. The current slowdown of the Doha Round allows for more thorough analysis of key issues and for careful crafting of a compromise text that all WTO Members can agree on. In addition, emerging and related issues should be explored, especially from a development perspective. Given the economic significance of the sector, facilitating market access for developing country exports represents a real opportunity. Ongoing work on Aid for Trade should be geared to fit the needs of fisheries sectors in developing countries. Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change on the fishery sector and adaptation strategies in this regard represent emerging challenges to be considered also in a trade context.