The National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF), registered under the Trade Union Act of India, is the only national federation of state level small and traditional fish workers’ unions of India. NFF has fifteen affiliated organizations in all the coastal states and union territories of the Indian mainland. NFF has worked to protect the life and livelihood of the fishing communities and its basic source – fisheries resources, biodiversity and natural environment since the 1970s.

Representing  fishers’  organizations,  who  have  deeply  invested  in  the  sustainable  development  of India’s fishing sector, NFF wish to provide comprehensive insights into India’s position at the WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies which is expected to conclude very soon in Abu Dhabi during the

13th  Ministerial Conference of the WTO (MC13), to be held this month between 26th and 29th February

2024  .While  we respect and support the government’s stance, While we respect the government’s stance, we believe  certain  considerations  merit  attention for a more holistic and  forward-looking approach.

  1. Advocating For  Small-Scale  And  Indigenous,  Artisanal  Indian Fishers:

It is essential to articulate a robust case for small-scale and indigenous, artisanal Indian fishers and their specific needs in international negotiations. We highlight the challenges faced by small-scale and indigenous,  artisanal  Indian  fishers,  emphasizing  the  importance  of  policies  and  subsidies  that directly   address   their   concerns,   ensuring   both   environmental   sustainability   and   equitable socio-economic benefits.

  1. Special And Differential Treatment For Small Fishers:

We fervently implore India to champion the cause of its small-scale fishers by securing a special and differential treatment exemption that extends beyond the current proposed limit of 12 Nautical Miles (NTM). Given the inherently semi-formal nature of their work and the limitation of advanced navigation equipment, small fishers operate beyond these proposed limits upto 24-200 Nautical Miles (NTM).

  1. Challenges In Meeting Notification Requirements:

We acknowledge India’s legitimate challenges in complying with the WTO negotiation requirements,  and  advocate  for  the  revision  of  the  sustainability  exemption  clause to a more equitable sustainability transitory clause. We propose the subsidies revision towards transitory

sustainable approaches for our commercial Indian fishworkers friends while protecting the rights of fishing from the baseline upto 200 nm for small-scale, artisanal and indigenous fishworkers.

  1. Need For Strong Domestic Fisheries Policy To Define Small-Scale Fisher Rights:

We stress upon the need for a robust domestic fisheries policy that aligns with international negotiations. Without a cohesive national policy to define small-scale, artisanal and indigenous fishworker rights, their unique characteristics and fishing methods, India’s position at the WTO may lack the necessary foundation for effective representation. We advocate for a policy like the

‘Coastal Rights Bill’ that not only protects the interests of the government’s goals in sustainability of fish stocks but percolates down to the specific needs of small-scale fisheries (SSF) in India.

  1. Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) Principle:

We underscore the pivotal role of applying the Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) principle in these negotiations, particularly in holding developed countries accountable for their historical actions contributing to overfishing and overcapacity. We demand a loss and damage fund for reparations for developing and least-developed countries to transition effectively based on a co-created timeline. We also urge the revision of countries in the developing list like China and their role in exhausting fish stocks through intensive IUU fishing in the Indian waters and the broader issue of overfishing, including the challenges posed by China’s fishing fleets in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The prevailing text also disproportionately favours developed nations, affording them undue leeway to evade substantial commitments.

  1. Focus On Defining Small Scale Fisheries (SSF) Role In Sustainable Development:

We  highlight  the importance of concentrating efforts on small-scale fisheries and their role in sustainability of fish stocks in coastal and ocean zones, rather than only focussing on deep-sea fishing in the WTO negotiations. We advocate for retaining subsidies that cater to the needs of small-scale fishers with an urgent need to define their unique characteristics, type of crafts and extent   of   fishing   zones.   We   also   propose   a   phased,  transitory  approach  to  phase  out over-subsidised  commercial fishing, emphasising that these reforms can be championed at the national level without the need for WTO intervention.

In conclusion, NFF believes that these nuanced considerations will strengthen India’s position at the WTO negotiations, promoting a balanced and inclusive approach that aligns with both national and global objectives. We remain committed to supporting the government’s efforts and urge a holistic strategy  that ensures the sustainable and equitable growth of India’s fishing sector, with equitable rights given to our communities of small-scale, artisanal and indigenous fishworkers in India.