Countries providing fishing subsidies to their commercial fishing companies could soon be required to provide information on what subsidies they provide, prohibit subsidies that contribute to overfishing and illegal fishing, introduce new policies to deter the introduction of new harmful subsidies and to provide special and differential treatment to developing countries.

This will happen should all countries making subsidies available to their commercial fishing industries heed the call of the United Nations’ ‘Roadmap to end harmful fishing subsidies’.

The roadmap, which was is an initiative of the United Nations (UN) Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The Civil Society Outreach (CSO) Unit at UNCTAD put out a press release on Thursday July 21, explaining that 90 countries have backed UNCTAD, FAO and UNEP in their signing of the roadmap to end harmful fishing subsidies.

In their press release the CSO explains that it is estimated that; “Fishing subsidies are estimated to be as high as $35bn worldwide, of which $20bn directly contributes to overfishing.”

They say that according to FAO data, fish stocks within sustainable level continues to decline, and that since 1974 it has fallen from 90% under sustainable levels to 69% in 2013.

These subsidies are not the quotas the commercial fishing companies get, but, are concessions that governments mostly in developed countries give to commercial fishing companies in the form of tax exemptions on the fuel for their big ships, tax exemptions on the bait they buy, and not paying landing duties on their harbours.

CSO says that fisheries are a key source of protein and livelihoods for millions of people in coastal communities, who are powerless to tackle the heavily subsidised industrial fishing boats of the developed countries, and the overfishing that goes with it.

At the signing of the roadmap on Wednesday July 20, Joakim Reiter, deputy secretary general of UNCTAD said: “This roadmap is a strong and unequivocal plea by all those supporting the joint UNCTAD-FAO-UNEP statement that elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies must be achieved by the next WTO Ministerial Conference in 2017. What we are saying, with one voice, is that decisive action in this area is long overdue.”

Fishing subsidies for big commercial companies have huge implications for small scale fishers and developing countries, which cannot compete with these big companies.

Because of the subsidies  these companies can exploit the oceans’ resources beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of their countries where there are no restrictions and they can catch as much as they like as they are now almost in no-man’s land.

On top of it, they now are able to sell their products at prices that those who do not have such subsidies cannot compete with, and in the process, they are not only destroying the environment, depleting the oceans from its fish stocks, but, they are also destroying the chances of small scale fishers to earn sustainable livelihoods, as well as destroying local economies and fishing industries in developing countries.

The roadmap is the result of an agreement between global leaders in 2015 to develop a new sustainable development goal (SDG) on fisheries, Goal 14, to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, sea, and marine resources.

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