Fisheries Subsidies

The majority of commercially valuable fish stocks are currently either overexploited or significantly depleted. Scientists predict a “global collapse” of all species currently fished if marine fish stocks continue to decline at current rates. This has serious and sometimes irreparable environmental, social and economic consequences, especially in developing countries. At the core of this crisis lies a range of policies that have increased production and trade in fish, including direct and indirect subsidies to the fisheries sector.

UNEP's Economics and Trade Branch is working actively to promote integrated and well-informed responses to the need for fisheries subsidies reform. Through a series of workshops, analytic papers and country projects, UNEP ETB seeks to improve the understanding of the impact of fisheries subsidies and to present policy options to address harmful impacts.

Working in close collaboration with governments, IGOs, NGOs and Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, UNEP provides a forum for interaction amongst policy makers, experts and various stakeholders to discuss the interface of fishery policies, the environment and trade. For instance, the latest Update and Introductory Briefing for New Delegates, convened jointly by UNEP and WWF in April 2009, gave a brief overview of the background and history of the negotiations and discussed the scope of the prohibition and options for creating Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT) that would create possibilities for sustainable development of the fisheries sector.

The UNEP-WWF paper “Sustainability Criteria for Fisheries Subsidies: Options for the WTO and Beyond” focuses on those subsidies that might be exempted from a potential new WTO ban on fisheries subsidies. It provides an analysis of the fisheries conditions and management practices that could guide both WTO negotiators and domestic policymakers in designing criteria for the use of those subsidies.

Previous UNEP analytical work and discussion papers focused, inter alia, on possible approaches to deal with Artisanal Fishing or to make Special and Differential Treatment both operational and inclusive of sustainable development considerations in the context of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations.

In addition, UNEP ETB has undertaken a variety of country projects in the fisheries sector, focusing on the impacts of trade liberalization on fisheries resources and the interaction between fisheries subsidies and fisheries management policies. The studies have confirmed the negative effects of poorly managed subsidies, particularly their contribution to resource and environmental depletion, food insecurity and unemployment. All UNEP ETB case studies clearly demonstrate the need for more coherent and transparent policy-making.

For further information on these or related issues, please contact Anja von Moltke at or Kamal Gueye at