Sustainability Criteria for Fisheries Subsidies - Options for the WTO and Beyond

Inappropriate subsidies contribute to widespread overfishing and to the distortion of trade in fisheries products. Current negotiations in the World Trade organization aim to address this problem through binding new subsidies rules. Meanwhile, many governments are working to reform their domestic fisheries subsidies programmes. But some fisheries subsidies will undoubtedly continue to be used for years to come. In this context, a knowledge of the policies and practices that can reduce the risks associated with these subsidies is critically important. This paper seeks to develop “sustainability criteria” for fisheries subsidies to guide both WTO negotiators and domestic policymakers. By examining issues related to the health of fish stocks, the capacity of fishing fleets, and the adequacy of fisheries management regimes, the paper proposes a series of basic tests whose application may allow the risks of fisheries subsidies to be reduced. The aim is to demonstrate that sustainability criteria for fisheries subsidies can be plausible, solidly rooted in accepted international norms, and tailored for use in the WTO as well as in the broader context of national practices.