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University of York scientist joins global call to ban harmful fisheries subsidies

Posted on 29 October 2021

Almost 300 scientists from across the world have joined forces to help tackle overfishing by calling for an end to harmful fisheries subsidies.

A fishing boatThe University of York's Dr Bryce Stewart is one of the letter's co-authors.

Their message is aimed at World Trade Organization (WTO) members, who have a unique opportunity at their ministerial meeting in November to reach an agreement that eliminates harmful fisheries subsidies.

The letter - published in the journal Science this week - has been co-authored by 296 scientists from 255 institutions in 46 countries across six continents, in what is thought to be a record for the journal.

These subsidies, such as government payments that lower the cost of fuel and vessel construction, or keep seafood prices artificially high, are known to encourage over capacity in fisheries and hence cause widespread overfishing.


Dr Bryce Stewart, from the Department of Environment and Geography at the University of York, and one of the co-authors of the letter, said: “I am delighted to join this global call for an end to harmful fisheries subsidies. By encouraging overfishing, these subsidies are threatening livelihoods and food security across the world, often in low income coastal communities that are highly dependent on their fisheries. 

“Overfishing doesn’t just affect the target species and fishermen, it also accelerates biodiversity loss and can hinder the ocean’s ability to help mitigate climate change.”

Healthier future

Although the authors acknowledge the need for some exceptions, such as for subsistence or small-scale fishermen who use low-impact fishing gears, they argue these exceptions must be allowed in a way that ensures sustainability.

They also argue subsidies must be eliminated for distant-water and destructive fishing fleets, as well as illegal and unregulated vessels, in order to help countries meet their commitments to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The letter - which is being translated into at least 10 different languages - will be virtually handed over to the WTO Director-General in early November. It is hoped that this will result in a binding commitment among the WTO ministers to end harmful subsidies and help ensure a healthier future for the world’s oceans.

Further information:

The initiative was led by the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

The letter is published in Science.

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