Fisherfolk, CSOs manifest opposition vs recent WTO fisheries deal

By APRN | October 20, 2022

Fernando Hicap of Pamalakaya Philippines, speaking in behalf of fisherfolks during the launching of the Primer on WTO Fisheries Subsidies

Research network launches comprehensive briefer on agreement on fisheries subsidy 

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), fisherfolk groups, and rural poor advocates gather together to oppose the newly adopted World Trade Organization (WTO) deal on fisheries subsidies. The online event led by Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN), National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations-PAMALAKAYA Pilipinas, and People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) called for sustainable fisheries and an end to overfishing by big monopolies and industrialized countries. 

“Instead of addressing the worsening state of the seas and the fishing sector, WTO railroads this agreement that will bring greater harm to us small fishers,” says Pamalakaya chairperson and former Philippine legislator Fernando Hicap.

Hicap, a Filipino fisherman himself, has been vocal on the issue and reiterated that the new policy will inflict disciplinary and punitive measures on small-scale and artisanal fishers. “It will only spare imperialist countries and big fishing monopolies liable for the IUUF [illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing] and overfishing,” he adds.

Delayed by two years due to the pandemic, the WTO Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12) held last June in Geneva has adopted a fisheries subsidies deal as a “solution” to IUUF and overfishing. 

The online event was titled “WTO Fishing in Troubled Waters” and was also the launch of the book Primer on IUUF and WTO elimination of subsidies.  

The research group APRN noted that the global fishing industry had grown exponentially leading to a dramatic decline in global fish populations. In the past decades, the industry is dominated by transnational corporations (TNCs), multilateral institutions, and trade blocs such as the WTO. 

The newly released publication made clear that small and artisanal fisherfolk remain the biggest number in the fishing industry constituting 85%, while the TNCs are only 15% but account for 75% of global production. 

Last 2020, the accounted global production of aquatic animals was estimated at 178 million tonnes. The total first sale value of global production amounted to USD 406 billion. Out of the overall production, 157 million tonnes were used for human consumption while the rest was for non-food uses. 

“It is clear that it is not the small and artisanal fishers who are responsible for overfishing in our waters. It is the TNCs, with their advanced technologies, including sonar and other digital technologies, who are plundering our marine resources,” APRN clarifies.

WTO meeting: Indian fishing community protests against proposal to curb fishery subsidies (

WTO: A bane to fisherfolk

In the more than 20 years of WTO negotiations about the state of the seas and the fishing sector, the situation only has turned for the worse. “No real solutions to end hunger and poverty. And it veers away from the promotion of food sovereignty and closer to destructive and commercial fishing for profit,” says Hicap. 

According to the fisherfolk leader, WTO has become an instrument for imperialist countries to forward their interest in the fishing sector. It was WTO who enabled the elimination of market barriers in relation to global fish trade and allowed the unprecedented expansion of imperialist countries that led to the depletion of various fish species and exacerbated overfishing.”  

The research group also remarked on how there is little space for working peoples in the drafting of the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies (AFS). “The demands of the small fishers remain unheard and left on the sidelines. Yet, we are talking about the consequences of the WTO deal on the lives of 50 million people across the globe and millions more in communities relying on fishing activities,” says APRN.

“If there’s anything the WTO has succeeded in 20 years after, it is pushing the small-scale and artisanal fishers further to the margins. It has left 850 million poor and hungry. While imperialist countries and big fishing monopolies are left unscathed,” Hicap adds.

Empower fishing communities

“Since time immemorial, WTO has caused the destruction of the marine environment and is accountable for the worsening crisis in fisheries. We cannot expect trade and investment founded on the principles of sovereignty, people’s rights, mutual cooperation, and benefit as long as WTO and other trade blocs continue to exist,” says campaign platform People Over Profit (POP) global coordinator Noel Colina.  

Also outlined in the newly released primer is the call to redirect subsidies and not eliminate them. Part of its recommendations to policymakers and duty-bearers is for subsidies to be rechanneled towards the development of small-scale and artisanal fishing, and sustainable fisheries. 

“Upholding sustainable fisheries will empower the small-scale and artisanal fisherfolk sectors around the globe. More and adequate subsidies should be in the framework of social justice, right to food, right to work and equal remuneration, people’s food sovereignty, and environmental protection,” says Hicap.

“If there’s anything the WTO has succeeded in 20 years after, it is pushing the small-scale and artisanal fishers further to the margins. It has left 850 million poor and hungry. While imperialist countries and big fishing monopolies are left unscathed,”

Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya Philippines

According to APRN, the primer will be part of the arsenal of the peoples’ movement in pushing back against the continuing plunder of TNCs of our oceans and seas. It will also serve to further clarify and underline the role of the WTO in enabling the plunder and exploitation of our natural resources. 
Now publicly available online, the publication was a collaboration of fisherfolk groups, food sovereignty advocates, and researchers. It further details the demands of working people in the fishing industry which is characterized by the unequal relations between developed countries and resource-poor countries.

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