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


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

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • 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.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • 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.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • 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 .

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 2017