With than 80% of the world’s fisheries are now

With an overall population
of 7.6 billion, more than 1 billion people depend on fisheries for their food
replenishment and especially protein requirements. Fishing has been the main source
of income for several hundreds of million people across the globe and fishing
activities support and sustain majority of the coastal communities. No matter
how impressive these figures look, the grim fact, as mentioned by the U.N. Food
and Agriculture Organization, is that more than 80% of the world’s fisheries
are now overexploited, fully exploited, significantly depleted or recovering
from over exploitation. Several species and population of fishes and marine
creatures are at a grave danger due to rapid overfishing. According to studies
and reports, most hunted are the ‘big’ fishes and almost 90% of various types
of such fishes like tuna, marlin and sharks are finished.

Since WTO’s establishment
in 1995, there had been discussions to include fisheries subsidies under
international trade plans and policies. This was due to the fact that fishing
is an important aspect under international commerce as well as holds
significance under the environmental protection issues.

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In 2001, concerns were
raised globally due to the exponential decrease in the fish reserves and population
as a result of the high subsidies and incentives provided by governments of
various nations. These subsides were a crucial cause which encouraged fishermen
to overexploit the oceans off its fishes and aquatic food sources. This led to
the addition of fisheries subsidies in the Doha round of the WTO.  Further taking the trade negotiations on
fisheries subsidies in 2005, during the Hong
Kong Ministerial Conference, WTO ministers reassured their commitment towards
the issue and produced: “…there
is broad agreement that the Group should strengthen disciplines on subsidies in
the fisheries sector, including through the prohibition of certain forms of
fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and over-fishing ….
Appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and
least-developed Members should be an integral part of the fisheries subsidies
negotiations, taking into account the importance of this sector to development
priorities, poverty reduction, and livelihood and food security concerns.”

Over the years, several conferences of WTO have taken
place but the result always have hardly been reassuring. Various scientists
from several countries along with fisheries experts have warned the WTO over
the severe conditions of the global fisheries reserves and clearly mentioned
that it can prove to be disastrous if not taken care of urgently.

As of December 2017, draft text on subsidy
prohibitions relating to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and overfished
stocks along with other decisions was put off by the Eleventh Ministerial
Conference (MC11) of WTO. In the conference that took place in Argentina, the
ministers voted for a decision to “continue to engage constructively in the
fisheries subsidies negotiations,” aiming to adopt an agreement in 2019.

While we follow the same mundane ‘rituals’ of making
drafts, discussing agendas and holding conferences over several decades, the
condition of the planet has just worsened extensively with several harrowing
techniques being used by commercial fishermen across the globe, especially
bottom trawling. As Sylvia Earle rightly said, “Bottom trawling is a ghastly
process that brings untold damage to sea beds that support ocean life. It’s akin
to using a bulldozer to catch a butterfly, destroying a whole ecosystem for the
sake of a few pounds of protein.”

Bottom trawling is one of the worst ways to fish as it
not only catches several hundreds of times of the required amount of fish but
also totally destroys the sea bed and the marine life and ecosystem with rich
flora and fauna. Several coral reefs and rich oceanic biodiversity zones have
been rooted off the ocean bed by the heavy sea trawlers which leave a mortifying
impact on the marine life. This has also had extreme adverse effects on the
food webs of the affected ocean areas.


and Lessons Learned

The major task at hand for the WTO and its related
member organizations is to maintain a strict approach towards a broad
prohibition of fishing subsidies being provided throughout the world. This will
effectively majorly help to curtail the global issue of overfishing. Also, in cases
where subsidies are required to be provided, it should be brought to the
knowledge of WTO, who should clearly check and analyze its future implications
on fishing activities. This should be followed by an unbiased decision making.
Moreover, WTO should have a quick but rigid, disciplined decision making
process which believes in timely delivering of rules and regulations, especially
on issues of utmost importance. Irrespective of the status of the country as developing
or underdeveloped, WTO should not risk the environmental concerns attached to
the natural resources and accordingly provide the subsidies if required, but
should ensure that natural resource reserves are not over exploited or rules
and regulations are not being taken for a toss.

There are almost 230,000 marine species known on this
planet, out of which over 16,000 are fish species. Scientists have estimated that
almost two million marine species are yet to be documented. Seeing the massive
scope of life that is still to be known to the human civilization, we are
putting our survival at the greatest stake.

Concluding, I’ll quote Rachel Carlson, famous American
marine biologist, “It’s a curious situation that the sea from which life first
arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But
the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist: the threat
is rather to life itself.”