BFAR backs WTO ban on fisheries subsidies

THE Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said the Philippines must comply with a World Trade Organization (WTO) ban on fishing subsidies, which is designed to deter illegal fishing, even amid pressure from fishing organizations to provide government support for fisherfolk.  

Demosthenes R. Escoto, BFAR officer-in-charge, said that the WTO agreement against subsidies seeks to deter illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUUF) and to restore overfished populations.

“The WTO agreement is good since the Philippines, as a country and a responsible fishing nation, we do not want IUUF. We also do not want subsidies targeting overfished stocks since it goes against fisheries management principles,” Mr. Escoto said in an interview last week.

“If fishing is contributing to IUUF, it should not be given a subsidy. If fishing targets overfished stock, there should be no subsidy,” he added.

During the 12th Ministerial Conference in June, the 164 members of the WTO approved a package of six agreements, which included the deal to curb fishing subsidies which harm the supply of fish.

The deal involves prohibiting subsidies that support IUUF, harvesting overfished stocks, and rules on fishing on the high seas beyond the jurisdiction of regional fisheries management organizations.

Fisherfolk organization Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA), the Asia Pacific Research Network, and People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty declared on Oct. 19 their opposition to the WTO agreement, claiming that small fishing communities will be disadvantaged by such a policy.

The groups said removing subsidies for commercial fishing fleets will not hamper IUUF and overfishing.

“The measure to cut fishing subsidies fails to identify who the real culprits are in the exploitation and exhaustion of the world’s seas and oceans,” PAMALAKAYA National Chairperson Fernando L. Hicap said.

They said around $35 billion has been spent by China, the European Union, the US, and Japan on fishing subsidies each year, citing a 2019 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Of the total, $22 billion allegedly goes to “destructive fishing practices.”

“WTO’s measure to cut fishing subsidies will be highly detrimental to small fisherfolk who direly need concrete government support especially in the midst of inflation and its consequent economic crises. The fishing subsidies should be properly disbursed to small fishers who are never engaged in any destructive fishing practices, and in order to boost their productivity for food security,” Mr. Hicap said. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave