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Sustainable development | Brussels, 17 October 2016

The EU proposes to curb subsidies causing overfishing in WTO countries

The EU called for WTO talks on fishery subsidies to avoid further depletion of world’s fish stocks.

Many countries the world over subsidise their fishing activity in ways that contribute to overfishing.

Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström and Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella wrote in a blog post: "A broad, multilateral agreement on harmful fishing subsidies will be key to safeguard the world's fisheries. We call upon other members of the WTO to join us in addressing this massive global challenge together, and to implement the commitments we made in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Negotiations should start immediately, in order to reach an agreement at the next WTO Ministerial Conference in December of next year."

The EU proposal is to address the two most harmful types of subsidies:

  • subsidies that increase the capacity of fleets to catch fish that represent almost 60% of all fisheries subsidies and lead directly to overfishing;
  • subsidies granted to fishermen who engage in illegal, unregulated or unreported (IUU) fishing.

While curbing harmful subsidies, the EU proposal foresees flexibility for developing countries and takes account of the needs of fishing communities in least developed and developing countries.

The proposal from the Commission has now been given the green light of EU Member States, and will be presented to all WTO members later this week.


The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that almost 60% of fish resources are at the limit of sustainability. The global fishing fleet is far too large to ensure sustainable fishing and the overall picture is alarming across the globe. This issue has been part of the WTO Doha Round and some free trade agreements. Some smaller initiatives between groups of countries have also been undertaken recently. None of them could however sufficiently address the real scale of the problem.

At the EU level, the new common fisheries policy ensures that all EU fish stocks are kept at a sustainable level by 2020. The modernised European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) is tackling the specific issue of fleet capacity.

More information

Blog post by Commissioner's Malmström
Trade and sustainable development