Vicky Lam (UBC) is a co-author with lead Rashid Sumaila (UBC), Daniel Pauly (UBC) and others on a new study published in the journal Marine Policy that gives an updated look at global fisheries subsidies. The authors reviewed and gathered information from “grey literature, national budgets, websites, databases, and information from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), World Bank and World Trade Organization (WTO)” to estimate the most recent amount of global fisheries subsidies, and which countries are contributing the most. They found that $35.4 billion (USD) was used for fisheries subsidies in 2018, with the largest portion ($22.2 billion USD) being spent on capacity-building. Of the global total, 22% was spent on fuel subsidies, 19% on fisheries management, and 15% on non-fuel tax exemptions.

The authors also found that Asia is the largest subsidizing region (55%), with Europe next (18%), followed by North America (13%). For individual nations providing subsidies, China was number one at 21% of the global total, followed by the U.S. (10%) and the Republic of Korea (9%). The European Union as a whole provided 11% of the global total. For a further breakdown of the nations providing fisheries sector subsidies, and in which areas they are being spent, you can access the paper here. National Geographic magazine also published an article focused on this study, which can be accessed at this link. The full abstract is below.

Abstract: The period from 2019 to 2020 is critical in determining whether the World Trade Organization (WTO), tasked with eliminating capacity-enhancing fisheries subsidies, can deliver to the world an agreement that will discipline subsidies that lead to overfishing. Here, following extensive data collection efforts, we present an update of the current scope, amount and analysis of the level of subsidisation of the fisheries sector worldwide. We estimate global fisheries subsidies at USD 35.4 billion in 2018, of which capacity-enhancing subsidies are USD 22.2 billion. The top five subsidising political entities (China, European Union, USA, Republic of Korea and Japan) contribute 58% (USD 20.5 billion) of the total estimated subsidy. The updated global figure has decreased since the most recent previous estimate from 2009, of USD 41.4 billion in 2018 constant dollars. The difference between these two estimates can be largely explained by improvements in methodology and the difference in the actual amount of subsidies provided. Thus, we consider direct statistical comparison of these numbers to be inappropriate. Having said that, the difference between the estimates suggest that the increase in fisheries subsidies provided in the preceding decades may have halted. Still, the bulk of harmful ‘capacity-enhancing’ subsidies, particularly those for fossil fuels have actually increased as a proportion of total subsidies. As such, for the benefit of marine ecosystems, and current and future generations of people, all hands must be on deck in helping the WTO reach a meaningful agreement to discipline subsidies that lead to overcapacity and overfishing.


Sumaila, U.R., Ebrahim, N., Schuhbauer, A., Skerritt, D., Li, Y., Kim, H.S., Mallory, T.G., Lam, V.W.L., and Pauly, D. (2019). Updated estimates and analysis of global fisheries subsidies. Marine Policy, 109 (2019) 103695

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