WTO urged to spin off fishing pact to protect seas

Marine scientists warned the World Trade Organisation that the world’s seas were in peril and called for a new WTO deal to discourage over-fishing.

"The health of the world’s oceans is hanging in the balance," they said in a letter to WTO chief Pascal Lamy, citing World Bank estimates that $50 billion a year is lost globally to poor fisheries governance and over-exploitation.
Subsidies of the fishing sector are an often-overlooked target of the WTO’s Doha Round, which would slash government aid programmes for nearly all farmed and manufactured goods.
As part of that global accord, which has met some resistance from nearly all the WTO’s 153 members, countries are seeking ways to reduce incentives to use polluting fuel and deplete vulnerable fish stocks.
Oceana, a lobby group based in the United States, said yesterday a potential fisheries agreement could be spun out from the Doha agenda, which requires full consensus across all politically sensitive negotiating areas to be clinched.
"I think the fisheries negotiations are one of few issues that have made steady progress in the Doha Round," Oceana’s Courtney Sakai said, suggesting success in fishing could provide a model for trade talks in other areas such as clean fuels.
"The world’s fish need a WTO deal, not necessarily a Doha deal, and soon," she said.
The soonest a Doha deal could be clinched is next year, but doubts are growing about whether that 2010 goal is achievable.
Oceana estimates that 63% of fish stocks worldwide require rebuilding, while more than 1 billion people depend on fish as a key source of protein.
Countries such as China, Japan and South Korea have been reluctant to cut their support for industrial fishing fleets and many developing countries with subsistence fishermen such as India are also wary.
Moustapha Kamal of the UN Environment Programme said a fisheries deal might be relatively easy to clinch.
"We are of the view that fisheries are not the deal breaker," he said, telling a conference that lower subsidies and better management could put the industry on a sustainable track.
The World Wildlife Fund’s Aimee Gonzalez said assistance for the fishing sector should come in the form of education, not cash to dangerously boost production. "If you can subsidise fisheries production, surely you can subsidise fisheries management instead," she said.