Let us state upfront: not all subsidies are bad. Subsidies serving to increase safety at sea, support research and management and scrap fishing capacity and helping people to build up alternatives to fishing are good.

But under today's conditions of rampant overfishing, increasing IUU fishing and insufficient protected areas, a large proportion of the dozens of billions of Euros, Dollars, Renminbi, Reais and many other currencies spent on 'modernisation' of fishing fleets are bad. Not only are they aggravating overfishing, the are also making the public pay twice: once for the subsidy and then for the damage it creates and picking up the pieces. Rashid Sumaila of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, comments on how subsidies are driving the overfishing and what we can do about it.

Some recent research suggests that despite illegal practices, identified vessels have received EU subsidies from Member States oblivious to the fraud. Read more.

  • Have a look at the report of the European Parliament to learn more about the practice and perverse effects of bad subsidies to the fishing fleet in different countries.

  • Request your Member of Parliament to place a parliamentary question to stop the practice, if vessels from your country are concerned, particularly in association with illegal practices and considering that this money paid is lacking for more productive use such as education, culture, science and marine restoration and protection.

  • Remind your Member of Parliament that in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation adopted solemnly by all Heads of State and Government during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, the government committed to “Eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to over-capacity, while completing the efforts undertaken at the World Trade Organization to clarify and improve its disciplines on fisheries subsidies, taking into account the importance of this sector to developing countries;” (Art. 30(f)) and ask that he/she places a parliamentary question on the follow-up given to that pledge.

Read more about the global scale of fisheries subsidies recently estimated at up to US$ 35 billion/year with particularly large chunks in Europe and Asia! Subsidies go predominantly to industrial fleets, which are unfortunately also those more involved in illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, sometimes to the extent of transnational organised crime. Small-scale fisheries which are worth protecting because of their important role in job creation, sustaining future-oriented activities in coastal communities and local food security, to name but the more obvious, receive only a small percentage of the fisheries subsidies.

Since years the members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiate about abolishing harmful fisheries subsidies. Unfortunately, the Ministerial Conference held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in December 2017 failed again to even stop subsidies to confirmed IUU vessels. Ministers decided at least to come to an agreement by 2019. They did not manage to do that and as a result of the covid pandemic it is unclear whether negotiations can indeed continue in time to meet the 2020 deadlines for phasing them out and deliver on SDG 14.6 accordingly.