Fisheries accord: a fair catch

OECD Observer

One of the first deals struck in Johannesburg during the World Summit on Sustainable Development was an agreement to do something about the precarious state of the world’s fisheries and oceans.

Hailed by negotiators as an important step toward saving fisheries resources from depletion, the agreement has nonetheless been heavily criticised, particularly by the non-governmental community.

On a general level, the WSSD Plan of Implementation provides several action points that the international or national communities can undertake, for example, signing up to the many international agreements and instruments that deal with fisheries, (e.g. UN convention on the law of the sea, UNCLOS). Nothing new, many will say, but at least it provides an improved political impetus and recognition of what is a serious and growing problem.

Perhaps the most important political commitment is that countries have signed up to restore fish stocks to sustainable levels by 2015. Some would say this is already too late. Yet change is needed that will not seriously upset the social and economic fabric of those coastal communities that depend on their fisheries.

The tools to help us solve the fishing crisis are there. Several road maps exist on possible ways to implement an effective transition to responsible and sustainable fisheries, including the important accompanying social policies. As usual, however, what is missing is not an understanding of the costs and benefits but rather the political courage to get things done. And in this regard, the outcome of the WSSD has given international organisations and the NGO community a crucial role to play in the next 10-15 years: to hold governments to the promises they made at Johannesburg.

Of the many suggested WSSD fisheries actions one stands out: namely, the elimination of subsidies that contribute to over-capacity. Over-capacity is the root of all evil in fisheries; as excess capital and manpower are tied up in fishing activities, more pressure on the resource may result and, concurrently, despite subsidies, fishing incomes will actually fall. In other words, subsidies eventually end up keeping fishers at a lower level of income than they could otherwise earn, while preventing policymakers and citizens from proper resource management. This link has to be cut if fishing communities are to expect a decent future and to be able to provide themselves with a sustainable living from the seas.

The OECD’s Committee for Fisheries will examine and advise governments on these aspects over the next two years and beyond. Once again, new policy measures are not needed; what are needed are the courage, conviction and commitment to reduce and finally eliminate the subsidies that generate over-capacity. The prize will be a return to a sustainable way of living for fishers and their communities.

See OECD (2000), Transition to Responsible Fisheries: Economic and Policy Implications, Paris.

©OECD Observer No 234, October 2002

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019

OECD Observer Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Subscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To order your own paper editions,email

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • MCM logo
  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2019