Global scientists call for a stop to harmful fisheries subsidies

BY: Zadok Kwame Gyesi
File photo
File photo

Nearly 300 scientists from six continents—including a prominent environmental economist from Ghana, Professor Wisdom Akpalu, have joined together with one voice to urge World Trade Organisation members to end harmful fisheries subsidies and protect the ocean’s health.

These scientists, who range from economists and biologists to nutritionists and health specialists, published a letter in the journal Science on October 29, 2021, calling on WTO members to reach an agreement this year that eliminates all destructive fisheries subsidies, which could help “to curb overfishing, biodiversity degradation and loss, and CO2 emissions, and to safeguard food and livelihoods.”

Among other requests, the letter asks WTO members to prohibit subsidies that make it cheaper to purchase vessel fuel and that allow distant-water fishing on the high seas or in the waters of other nations.

These types of subsidies, according to the scientists, unfairly disadvantage small-scale fishers in developing countries, making it harder for them to compete with large, industrial-scale fishing fleets from developed nations.

Prof. Wisdom Akpalu, the Dean of the School of Research and Graduate Studies at the Ghana Institute of Management & Public Administration (GIMPA), was among the scientists who signed the letter.

“Harmful fisheries subsidies enable developed nations to engage in distant-water fishing at an industrial scale in the waters of developing countries. Local fishers throughout Africa cannot compete with such foreign fleets. If the World Trade Organisation members heed the calls of scientists from across the globe and strike a deal that ends harmful fisheries subsidies, depleted fish populations could rebound, boosting coastal communities and stemming international migration across the continent,” Prof. Akpalu explained.

A Professor at the Lancaster University, Christina Hicks, also observed that "Instead of supporting fishers, harmful fisheries subsidies undermine the sustainable development goals by damaging ecosystems, threatening food security, and worsening inequities between and within countries."

For Prof. Hicks, "World Trade Organisation members should take the advice of scientists around the world and reach an agreement that ends harmful fisheries subsidies --enabling governments to redirect support so that it lefts up coastal communities and truly levels the playing field."

An Associate Professor, School of Oceanography, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Prof. Ling Cao, also noted that "As the world's largest fishing nation and one of the leading economic powers, China has a responsibility to promote the World Trade Organisation multilateral negotiations towards a pragmatic and consensus-seeking manner to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies that lead to overcapacity, overfishing, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and to help achieve the United Nation's sustainable development goals."

After two decades of negotiations, World Trade Organisation countries will convene from November 30, 2021, through December 3, 2021, for a ministerial conference focused on finalising a globally binding agreement that could end harmful fisheries subsidies, a key driver of overfishing worldwide.