Brief

Assessing and Managing Fishing Capacity in the Context of World Trade Organization Disciplines on Fisheries Subsidies

As WTO members negotiate new rules on fisheries subsidies, identifying situations where there is already overcapacity and overfishing—and consequently, where support should be prohibited—has been intensely debated. As a contribution to this discussion, this brief provides a general background on fishing capacity management and defines some of the key concepts used in this area. It then suggests possible options for members to establish, measure and monitor fishing capacity, while ensuring that capacity remains within sustainable levels.
April 20, 2021
  • Since the 1950s, the global fleet has continuously expanded to reach 4.56 million vessels in 2018. This increase has been accompanied by declines in catches per unit effort (CPUE) and stock abundance in virtually all regions.

  • Addressing overcapacity requires coastal states to define capacity management objectives, assess their current and target fishing capacity, implement management measures, and monitor fishing activities.

  • In data-poor and multi-species fisheries, qualitative indicators such as CPUE, trends in profitability, season length, or fishers' own knowledge, can supplement quantitative information available.

Ongoing WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies are currently considering prohibiting certain forms of support considered as capacity enhancing (e.g., subsidies to construction and modernization, vessel equipment, or fuel). Such prohibitions would apply unless a member can demonstrate that it implements measures to maintain the stock in the relevant fishery at a biologically sustainable level.

If these exceptions remain in the final agreement, members wanting to continue providing otherwise-prohibited subsidies will need to think through how to measure their existing fishing capacity and demonstrate that it is commensurate with the sustainable use of available resources. As a contribution to this discussion, the present policy brief provides a general background on fishing capacity management and defines some of the key concepts used in this area based on existing literature. It then suggests possible options and indicators for members to establish, measure and monitor fishing capacity, while ensuring that capacity remains within sustainable levels. Finally, the brief reviews for illustrative purposes existing datasets and available information to measure fishing capacity from both an output and input perspective.