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Protecting small scale fisheries | The Nation Nigeria

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At the heart of the global fisheries economy are small-scale fisheries. At a webinar last week, Nigeria and other members of World Trade Organisation (WTO) discussed the impact of subsidies on health and sustainability of the blue economy, DANIEL ESSIET reports.

FISH is an important source of food. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has pointed out that the small scale fisheries sector is vital to the success and sustainability of the blue economy.

Fifty per cent of seafood globally, analysts said, is supplied by small scale fisheries. Also, they said the supply chain in the small scale fisheries provides livelihood for millions of women.

But growth in industrial scale fishing deployed by advanced countries in the West African waters is nosediving  and putting the livelihoods of local fishermen at risk.

Despite that overfishing is threatening ocean health, the WTO observed that many governments have paid subsidies to their fishing fleets, helping them fish beyond levels that are biologically sustainable.

According to WTO, governments spend $22.2 billion yearly as subsidies on overfishing. These subsidies paid to help offset the costs of vessel fuel, upgrades, port renovations, and other expenses, enable industrial fleets to fish farther and longer.

For instance, West Africa, recognised as one of the world’s richest fisheries grounds with snapper, grouper, sardines, mackerel and shrimp, loses up to $1.5 billion worth of fish yearly to vessels fishing in protected zones or without proper equipment or licences.

Throughout West Africa, the World Economic Forum report said, the artisanal fishing sector is a major source of livelihood and food security.

Significantly, in Nigeria, the report noted, artisanal fishing accounts for 80 per cent of the fish consumed and supports the livelihoods of about 24 million people.

WTO said the time had come to end harmful subsidies, some of which support illegal fishing.

Speaking during a virtual meeting organised by WTO, its Director-General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said to protect vulnerable people and their livelihoods, it was necessary for trade ministers to discuss new global rules limiting government’s support for the industry.

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According to her, public subsidies have incentivised overfishing. She noted that global fish stocks have decreased sharply, and poor and vulnerable artisanal fishers have suffered along with ocean ecosystems.

Her words: “In 2017, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned that an estimated one-third of global fish stocks were overfished, an increase from 10 percent in 1970 and 27 per cent last year.

“Despite these disturbing findings, governments continue to disburse around $35 billion in annual fisheries subsidies, two-thirds of which go to commercial fishers. In doing so, they are keeping at sea many commercial vessels that would otherwise be economically unviable.”

By negotiating away harmful fisheries subsidies, Dr Okonjo-Iweala, noted that WTO members would not only be honouring past commitments, but also lending support to other international efforts to address problems in the global commons—from climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, last week, WTO members edged closer to an agreement, which would set new rules for the global fisheries industry and limit government subsidies contributing to unsustainable fishing and the depletion of global fish stocks.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala declared  the meeting of WTO members a success because they confirmed they would reach a deal of removing fishing subsidies.

“Today, we were looking for the political guidance, the political support to move forward and for the first time in 20 years, we have a text that has been agreed and blessed by all the ministers and heads of delegations of the 128 members we have today,” Mrs Okonjo-Iweala told a news conference.

“We couldn’t have wished for a better outcome,” she continued, adding: “When you sit back and look at what we were looking for from this meeting-political will, support to move forward, support to move forward on the basis of an agreed text – we got all that today.”

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and the chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, announced that WTO members would continue to negotiate to reach an agreement before the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, scheduled for November 30, this year. Although WTO member countries failed to strike a deal, they paved the way for an agreement later this year.

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Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Niyi Adebayo, called on WTO to exempt small scale and artisanal fishers from its fisheries subsidies.

Adebayo expressed Nigeria’s readiness to negotiate on appropriate special and differential treatment provisions for developing countries and least developed countries.

The minister stated at a virtual meeting of the WTO Trade Negotiations Committee thus: “The Federal Government called for the exemption of small scale and artisanal fishers from the scope of the fisheries subsidies discipline under negotiation at the World Trade Organisation by member nations.”

The minister affirmed Nigeria’s commitment and support to the agreement to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that had resulted in the rapid depletion of global marine fish stocks.

He added: “I wish to assure you of Nigeria’s support and commitment to proactively engage with all members towards achieving a balanced outcome in line with our mandate to conclude an agreement to prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and refrain from introducing new such subsidies.”

 

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