Urgent action is needed to reduce over-fishing, improve fisheries management and reform support to the sector, or the world will fail to meet a key United Nations goal on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and marine resources, according to a new OECD report.
The OECD Review of Fisheries 2020 updates and analyses the OECD fisheries support estimate (FSE) database, the most comprehensive, detailed, and consistent collection of country level data on governments support to fisheries reported by governments. The latest Review shows that at least a quarter of global fish stocks with known status are overfished and a third of fishing activity is not adequately managed, jeopardizing attainment of UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 and the health of our ecosystems.
Current fisheries policies are part of the problem: over the 2016-18 period, the 39 countries in the Review reported spending USD 9.4 billion annually in support to fisheries, accounting for about 10% of the value of catches. Over a third of this support lowered the cost of fuel, vessels and gear, which frequently encourages overfishing.
“Governments should stop subsidising fishing inputs, directing support to helping fishers operate their businesses more effectively and more sustainably,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “Countries have an opportunity to come together at the WTO in an agreement to reduce harmful fisheries subsidies. They must do so, to refocus efforts and limited resources to ensure the protection and sustainability of our oceans, marine biodiversity and the livelihoods of coastal communities.”
The report also provides the latest information about illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, which undermines the effectiveness of management and threatens the sustainability of fish stocks. While there has been significant progress over the past fifteen years in fighting IUU fishing, particularly on implementation of port state measures, more needs to be done to improve the transparency of vessel registration and authorisation processes; the stringency of transhipment regulation; the market measures to increase traceability; and to close markets and fisheries services to IUU fishing operators.
Effective management of fish stocks is crucial for the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the sector. Yet policy is lagging in many countries. Only about two-thirds of management mechanisms directly control reported catches and landings, and only about a third of countries and economies use total allowable catch limits (TACs) in all the management processes they report on.
How support is given matters. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to be a major source of disruption and uncertainty across the entire seafood sector, governments need to continue providing support to the sector. However, the Review shows that support is most effective and supportive of sustainable fisheries when it is time-limited, targeted, cash-based and consistent with longer-term sustainability objectives.
Drawing on experience across major fishing countries, the Review argues that government policy action can make the fisheries sector more productive, sustainable and resilient by:
- Moving away from policies that support inputs and unsustainable capacity towards those that help fishers operate their businesses more effectively in a sustainable manner, and increase their revenue (e.g., through education and training), or that provide direct income support in a way that does not incentivise unsustainable fishing.
- Addressing regulatory loopholes and moving towards internationally recognised best practices to fight IUU fishing.
- Investing in sufficient capacity for management, control and surveillance to effectively and sustainably manage fisheries, including in the high seas, and to eradicate illegal fishing.