With an overall populationof 7.6 billion, more than 1 billion people depend on fisheries for their foodreplenishment and especially protein requirements. Fishing has been the main sourceof income for several hundreds of million people across the globe and fishingactivities support and sustain majority of the coastal communities.
No matterhow impressive these figures look, the grim fact, as mentioned by the U.N. Foodand Agriculture Organization, is that more than 80% of the world’s fisheriesare now overexploited, fully exploited, significantly depleted or recoveringfrom over exploitation. Several species and population of fishes and marinecreatures are at a grave danger due to rapid overfishing. According to studiesand reports, most hunted are the ‘big’ fishes and almost 90% of various typesof such fishes like tuna, marlin and sharks are finished. Since WTO’s establishmentin 1995, there had been discussions to include fisheries subsidies underinternational trade plans and policies.
This was due to the fact that fishingis an important aspect under international commerce as well as holdssignificance under the environmental protection issues. In 2001, concerns wereraised globally due to the exponential decrease in the fish reserves and populationas a result of the high subsidies and incentives provided by governments ofvarious nations. These subsides were a crucial cause which encouraged fishermento overexploit the oceans off its fishes and aquatic food sources. This led tothe addition of fisheries subsidies in the Doha round of the WTO.
Further taking the trade negotiations onfisheries subsidies in 2005, during the HongKong Ministerial Conference, WTO ministers reassured their commitment towardsthe issue and produced: “…thereis broad agreement that the Group should strengthen disciplines on subsidies inthe fisheries sector, including through the prohibition of certain forms offisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and over-fishing ….Appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing andleast-developed Members should be an integral part of the fisheries subsidiesnegotiations, taking into account the importance of this sector to developmentpriorities, poverty reduction, and livelihood and food security concerns.” Over the years, several conferences of WTO have takenplace but the result always have hardly been reassuring. Various scientistsfrom several countries along with fisheries experts have warned the WTO overthe severe conditions of the global fisheries reserves and clearly mentionedthat it can prove to be disastrous if not taken care of urgently. As of December 2017, draft text on subsidyprohibitions relating to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and overfishedstocks along with other decisions was put off by the Eleventh MinisterialConference (MC11) of WTO. In the conference that took place in Argentina, theministers voted for a decision to “continue to engage constructively in thefisheries subsidies negotiations,” aiming to adopt an agreement in 2019. While we follow the same mundane ‘rituals’ of makingdrafts, discussing agendas and holding conferences over several decades, thecondition of the planet has just worsened extensively with several harrowingtechniques being used by commercial fishermen across the globe, especiallybottom trawling.
As Sylvia Earle rightly said, “Bottom trawling is a ghastlyprocess that brings untold damage to sea beds that support ocean life. It’s akinto using a bulldozer to catch a butterfly, destroying a whole ecosystem for thesake of a few pounds of protein.”Bottom trawling is one of the worst ways to fish as itnot only catches several hundreds of times of the required amount of fish butalso totally destroys the sea bed and the marine life and ecosystem with richflora and fauna. Several coral reefs and rich oceanic biodiversity zones havebeen rooted off the ocean bed by the heavy sea trawlers which leave a mortifyingimpact on the marine life.
This has also had extreme adverse effects on thefood webs of the affected ocean areas. Recommendationsand Lessons LearnedThe major task at hand for the WTO and its relatedmember organizations is to maintain a strict approach towards a broadprohibition of fishing subsidies being provided throughout the world. This willeffectively majorly help to curtail the global issue of overfishing. Also, in caseswhere subsidies are required to be provided, it should be brought to theknowledge of WTO, who should clearly check and analyze its future implicationson fishing activities. This should be followed by an unbiased decision making.Moreover, WTO should have a quick but rigid, disciplined decision makingprocess which believes in timely delivering of rules and regulations, especiallyon issues of utmost importance. Irrespective of the status of the country as developingor underdeveloped, WTO should not risk the environmental concerns attached tothe natural resources and accordingly provide the subsidies if required, butshould ensure that natural resource reserves are not over exploited or rulesand regulations are not being taken for a toss.
There are almost 230,000 marine species known on thisplanet, out of which over 16,000 are fish species. Scientists have estimated thatalmost two million marine species are yet to be documented. Seeing the massivescope of life that is still to be known to the human civilization, we areputting our survival at the greatest stake. Concluding, I’ll quote Rachel Carlson, famous Americanmarine biologist, “It’s a curious situation that the sea from which life firstarose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. Butthe sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist: the threatis rather to life itself.”