Editor’s note: The Slimmer Skimmer is a new feature to give a brief update on a topic critical to marine ecosystem management.

We are starting off our Slimmer Skimmer series with one of fisheries subsidies. The World Trade Organization is currently working to make an end-of-the year deadline (their own, as well as one for the Sustainable Development Goals) to end harmful types of fisheries subsidies. Not all fisheries subsidies are harmful – fisheries management is commonly considered a subsidy, for instance – but the harmful ones encourage overfishing and have substantial negative impacts on marine ecosystems.

Please let us know what you think of this type of feature and if there is anything that you feel we should cover in this format in the future.

So let’s start with a few basics – what are fisheries subsidies?

Okay, got it. So why do harmful fishery subsidies matter so much for marine ecosystems and some coastal communities?

Why are we talking about this right now?

At that time, they also formally recognized the need to ensure that least developed countries were part of the negotiations and that developing countries might need ‘special and differential’ treatment.

  • Some of the urgency for the WTO to finally reach an agreement after nearly 20 years of discussing the issue is due to the fact that UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6, adopted in 2015, calls for eliminating fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing and IUU fishing by 2020. (Most other SDGs have target completion dates of 2030.)
  • Given that the WTO has postponed its next ministerial conference until 2020, the actual elimination of harmful subsidies by 2020 probably isn’t possible unless the WTO holds a special session later this year. But the WTO is actively negotiating an agreement on fisheries subsidies with a near-term deadline.
  • If you want to dig more into the nitty-gritty details of the negotiations, you can find a good overview of many of the issues here and a brief update on some of the proposals here. As you can imagine, there are many difficult issues, including the fact that there is currently no globally agreed upon definition of an overfished stock.

Tools for fisheries assessment and monitoring in data and capacity-limited situations