This knowledge-sharing seminar provided an opportunity for negotiators to engage in informal dialogue around the identification of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activity and the disciplining of subsidies to IUU fishing.
The dialogue explored how state-of-the-art technological developments – using vessel tracking data and machine-learning – can increase transparency in the fisheries sector and assist countries in monitoring fishing activity and identifying vessels engaged in IUU fishing. In particular, the seminar included a short presentation about the Global Fishing Watch online platform, which provides free and public access to a database covering fishing activity by around 60,000 – mostly large-scale – fishing vessels worldwide.
Further presentations and debate addressed how such technological tools can be used, including by organisations such as Ocean Mind, to make monitoring efforts more effective, better enforce fisheries management schemes, and, in the context of WTO subsidy rules, help countries make determinations and verifications related to IUU fishing. Discussions also highlighted that IUU lists from regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs), while useful tools, only cover a tiny part of global IUU fishing activity.
The seminar also addressed specific legal questions related to the crafting of WTO provisions for prohibiting subsidies to IUU fishing. In particular, it addressed questions such as the definition of IUU fishing, the list of entities who will be able to make IUU fishing determinations, and the balance between the rights/obligations of a determining entity and the subsidising member. Discussions also focused on potential conditions that could apply to the determination and verification of IUU fishing activity.
- From a sustainable development perspective, it would be desirable that possibilities for determining IUU fishing under WTO fisheries subsidies rules go beyond RFMOs’ IUU lists.
- New technological tools such as Global Fishing Watch provide countries and RFMOs with new possibilities for better monitoring fishing activity. Such tools could help WTO members – including coastal states, flag states, and subsidising members – to identify IUU fishing activity, and assist them in their determination and verification of IUU fishing activity.
- It is important that WTO fisheries subsidies rules provide some level of certainty regarding the definition of IUU fishing, as well as clarity regarding the processes for the determination and verification of IUU fishing. This latter point can be achieved through agreeing on a set of conditions that would apply to those processes. A key consideration is the need for balance between the rights and obligations of different WTO members.
The event built on previous ICTSD dialogues and research on these topics, in particular ICTSD’s recent publication Fisheries Subsidies Rules at the WTO: A Compilation of Evidence and Analysis and the policy brief Building Comprehensive and Effective WTO Rules on Fisheries Subsidies.
The meeting is part of the first set of dialogues of the ICTSD initiative WTO: Paths Forward. Building on the outcomes of the 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, this initiative will provide a platform to exchange perspectives and in-depth analysis on possible options for WTO-based processes going forward and into the 12th Ministerial Conference.