Negotiations on Fisheries Subsidies: Understanding Subsidies and IUU Fishing

WTO: Paths Forward
Organised by
23 July 2018
Geneva, Switzerland

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.

Main takeaways

  • 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.

Christophe BELLMANN is a Senior Resident Research Associate at ICTSD with more than 20 years of experience working on international trade negotiations and policy making from a sustainable development perspective. Mr. Bellmann joined ICTSD in 1998, first as Programme Officer for Outreach and Partnership, then as Director of Policy Dialogues and since 2002, as Programmes Director. Before joining our Organisation, Mr. Bellmann worked for the Swiss Coalition of Development Organisations (SCDO) where he was responsible for activities on multilateral trade and sustainable development issues. Mr. Bellmann has also worked as a Research Associate at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago, Chile, on the relationship between trade and the environment.

Mr. Bellmann has edited and published a wide range of books, articles and opinion pieces in English, French and Spanish on trade and sustainable development. His work focuses on international trade negotiations, development policies and environmental governance in areas such as agriculture and food security, fisheries, tariffs and non-tariff barriers, rules, regional trade, services and intellectual property rights, He holds an MA in International Relations from the Graduate Institute for International Studies in Geneva. Mr. Bellmann is a citizen of Switzerland.



Alice Tipping is a Programme Manager and leads the ICTSD’s Environment and Natural Resources programme.

Prior to joining the ICTSD, she worked as a diplomat and legal adviser in the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. She has served in New Zealand’s Mission to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, where she covered negotiations on trade remedies, including fisheries subsidies, trade and the environment and the WTO’s dispute settlement system.

She has also served in New Zealand’s Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, covering several UN specialised agencies and environmental issues.

Ms Tipping has also worked as a research and strategy analyst in foreign direct investment promotion.

She holds an MPhil in International Relations from Cambridge University. She also holds a Bachelor of Laws degree and a Bachelor of Commerce degree, with a major in Economics, from Victoria University of Wellington. Alice is citizen of the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Paul Woods is the Chief Technology Officer at Global Fishing Watch and architect of the technology platform. He served as interim CEO as the organization was set up as independent in 2017. Paul is a software engineer and veteran of several software startup companies working in finance, informatics and big data. Prior to Global Fishing Watch, Paul served as Chief Technology Officer at SkyTruth, where he built a dedicated team of inspired technologists committed to using remote sensing, big data, and cloud computing to promote better environmental conservation around the world. He continues to serve as a technical advisor on the SkyTruth board.

Bradley Soule is OceanMind’s Chief Fisheries Analyst. He has spent most of his life either on the sea or thinking about the sea.

Bradley joined the U.S. Coast Guard as a teenager and served in a number of assignments across the United states conducting law enforcement and search and rescue in the Bering Sea, home to some of the largest commercial fisheries in the world as well as serving as the Commanding Officer of a patrol boat conducting fisheries enforcement, search and rescue, and homeland security patrols and coordinating fisheries enforcement for the Coast Guard’s California District, which included international fishery enforcement efforts in the Eastern Pacific. He also served as the Deputy Chief of Fishery Enforcement and senior fishery watch officer at Coast Guard headquarters, coordinating interagency and international action on some of the most high profile cases around the world with Coast Guard involvement.

He has a bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and a Master’s degree in Marine Affairs with a focus on fishery management from the University of Washington in Seattle.

Bradley left the Coast Guard in 2013 to become a Criminal Intelligence Officer at INTERPOL’s General Secretariat in Lyon, France where he led the organization’s nascent fisheries project, helping to coordinate operations, capacity building, and intelligence sharing and analysis on fisheries crime among INTERPOL’s 190 member countries.

In 2015, Bradley joined Project Eyes on the Seas, the project that would become OceanMind, as the first fisheries analyst that would build the team OceanMind is today. He leads all of OceanMind’s operational activities and analysis and has built experience in risk analysis and identification in every ocean basin across dozens of fisheries and exclusive economic zones.


Dr Isabelle Van Damme is Counsel at Van Bael & Bellis and a Member of the Brussels Bar. Her practice focuses on WTO law, EU law, and public international law. She is also a visiting lecturer at the KU Leuven, where she teaches EU external relations law, and at the World Trade Institute, where she taught this year a course on ‘Treaty Interpretation’. Before joining Van Bael & Bellis, Isabelle worked as a référendaire in the chambers of Advocate General Sharpston, at the Court of Justice of the European Union (Luxembourg). Isabelle has also worked at Sidley Austin LLP (Geneva), where she practiced WTO law, and was a lecturer and the Turpin Lipstein Fellow at the University of Cambridge, Clare College. She holds degrees from the University of Ghent (Bachelor of Law, Master of Laws), Georgetown University Law Center (LL.M.) and the University of Cambridge (Ph.D. in Law). Isabelle has published widely on WTO law, EU law and public international law. Her main publications include a monograph on Treaty Interpretation by the WTO Appellate Body (Oxford University Press) and an edited collection entitled The Oxford Handbook of International Trade Law (Oxford University Press).

Room D, WTO, Rue de Lausanne 154, 1202 Genève