Skip to main content

A paper by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) cautions that the reluctance by some WTO Members to strengthen rules against subsidies to small fishing vessels threatens to undermine a potential agreement that would discipline fisheries subsidies that contribute to overfishing.

As part of the on-going Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations, subsidies to the fisheries sector have been given special attention. Notably, the negotiations are targeting subsidies that are not only trade distorting, but also those that lead to overfishing. However, the WWF warns that some Members are advocating for loopholes be created for so-called “small-scale fishing”, even though these vessels can have a significant economic and environmental impact.

There is no agreed definition of small-scale fishing, and it is not synonymous with artisanal fishing, considered to be subsistence or near-subsistence level fishing in the WTO talks, says the WWF.

The report says: “In fact, the diverse range of fishery types that various WTO members seek to subsidize through a ‘small-scale’ carve-out helps explain two facts about the small scale discussion at the WTO: first, it has boiled down to proposals based purely on vessel size; second, it has included proposals for ‘small-scale’ vessel carve-outs from both developed and developing country members, representing very different interests.”

There are numerous examples of small-vessels (normally considered vessels under 24m in length), which are economically viable, significant players in international fishing commerce, and contribute to overfishing, says the WWF. The WWF paper lists numerous cases where small-scale vessels have led to overfishing, and notes  that in the EU about 80% of fishing vessels are considered small-scale.

The WWF paper, Small Boats, Big Problems, is available on-line: