WTO out of Fisheries: End the Global Plunder of our Seas

Unity statement of participants in the webinar “New Waves of Plunder: On the WTO Negotiations on Fishing Subsidies” held 20 July 2021.

Global fisheries and, by extension, its subsidies are not merely trade issues but of people’s rights, ecosystems, food security, sovereignty, and development.

We, the small fisherfolk organizations of the Global South and advocates, reject the current negotiations of the World Trade Organization  (WTO) on global fisheries subsidies in both process and substance. It is clear that the trajectory of the WTO discussions pose a threat to the people’s rights to livelihood, food, and the right over their resources and sovereignty.

The 20-year negotiation on harmful fisheries subsidies in the WTO has only served to stall any potential meaningful reform and cover up for oceangrabbers and plunderers. Without holding big subsidizers and fishing monopolies accountable, WTO’s claim to work for ocean conservation and equal opportunity holds no water, so to speak.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of small-scale fisherfolk and fishworkers remain poor and neglected despite providing a vital force for national food security. Despite this, more than 80% of subsidies go to large fleets which fish for export.

In addition, the current paradigm on addressing Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF) unfairly burdens small fishers at best and is used to phase them out at worst[1].

Given its history as an instrument of the monopoly capitalist agenda, we have no illusion that the WTO negotiations will yield pro-people reforms in global fisheries.

Subsidized Plunder

The current global fisheries regime is reflective of the unjust, inequitable and unsustainable food system.

It is one of colonial plunder. Fishing vessels flagged from 5 wealthy countries[2] alone account for 87% of high seas fishing globally. The relentless and subsidized race for profit  between these countries have led to stock collapse and overfishing in pelagic and migratory fishes.

In addition, the remaining 48% of the oceans and seas or national waters are pillaged by vessels from the same wealthy countries. In fact, China, Taiwan, and South Korea alone account for a whopping 63% of fishing efforts in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of developing countries[3].

Furthermore, the export-oriented production of fish, as designed by WTO rules and its enabling institutions, have led to it being one of the most traded commodities globally. Majority of these are from developing countries despite the fact that, for some, up to 80%[4] of their population depends on fish as their main source of protein. In coastal communities, access to fish can spell the difference between normal and stunted growth in children.

The ever increasing demand from the European Union, United States, Japan, the 3 biggest fish importers, and other wealthy nation-States have put a strain on developing countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs), oceans, and food security.

As these well-oiled fleets push small fishers closer to the shore, the falling catch of artisanal fishing can plunge 850 million people more into hunger[5].

Beyond WTO

A global concerted effort in pivoting the state of our seas and the fisheries sector is an urgent need. Especially for small island states and developing countries of the Global South, fisheries play a vital role in ending hunger and poverty, promoting food sovereignty, and addressing climate change.

It should be recognized that small-scale, artisanal, and traditional fisherfolk, despite poverty and lack of support, continue to feed the Global South sustainably.

A people-powered and sustainable fisheries and aquatic resource development paradigm should be adopted. Pivoting towards just, equitable, healthy, and sustainable food systems requires policies that put people’s rights, justice, and the planet at the center and not profit.

In particular, we demand that policy makers and duty bearers:

  • Uphold Sustainable Fisheries by giving the small-scale and artisanal fisherfolk sectors around the globe, more and adequate subsidies, in the framework of Social Justice, Right to Food, Right to Work and Equal Remuneration, Right to Adequate Standard of Living, National Food Security, People’s Food Sovereignty, Environmental Protection, National Development, and National Sovereignty.
  • Cooperativize the fishery distribution sector and abolish the monopoly control of big traders.
  • Hold imperialist China, US and other imperialist countries who are engaging in plundering the global fishery and marine resources and destruction of the marine environment, seriously accountable for the crisis in fisheries, as manifested by overfishing indicators.
  • Cooperativize the small to medium scale commercial fishing vessels (up to 150 GT), regulate their operations and subsidize them to be able to operate in their respective countries’ EEZ and distant waters, in the framework of National Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Environmental Protection and National Development.
  • Respect the Fishing Rights of the small-scale and artisanal fisherfolk in the communal fishing waters, and protect it from abuse of plunderous and destructive industrial and commercial fishing operations.
  • Revoke the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Agriculture, and abolish the WTO. Instead, it would be necessary to envision a trade and investment regime founded on principles of sovereignty, people’s rights, solidarity, mutual cooperation and benefit, as well as democracy and accountability to the people. The current situation requires a system that serves the needs of working people and small-scale producers, and their right to lead development paths at national level. ###

Signed by:

  • People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS)
  • Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA, National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines)
  • IBON International
  • Asia-Pacific Research Network (APRN)
  • Pacific Network on Globalization (PANG)
  • Confederación Nacional de Federaciones de Pescadores Artesanales de Chile (CONAPACH)
  • Asian Peasant Coalition (APC)
  • Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (AGRA)
  • Institute for Motivating Self- Employment (IMSE)
  • National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO)

[1] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/faf.12462

[2] China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and Spain

[3] https://labs.eemb.ucsb.edu/mccauley/doug/publications/McCauley_et_al_2018-Sci_Adv.pdf

[4] https://www.fishforward.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/future_trends_report-EN.pdf

[5] https://www.nature.com/articles/534317a