Representatives of ocean-focused non-governmental organizations have issued a mix of praise and criticism of an agreement struck at the World Trade Organization to prohibit subsidy support for illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and limiting fishing of overfished stocks.

The accord, agreed to on 14 June, ditched several parts of the draft text presented to ministers and was characterized by WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as a “first but significant step forward” to curbing fleet overcapacity by ending subsidies for fishing on the unregulated high seas. Okonjo-Iweala said the reporting requirements included in the deal will “finally shed light on the

actual level of subsidies going to fishing.”

Several campaign groups welcomed the deal, including the Pew Charitable Trusts. Isabel Jarrett, manager of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ reducing harmful fisheries subsidies project, said all 164 WTO member governments will have to disclose the extent of their fishery subsidies.

The Environmental Justice Foundation, which has extensively tracked the consequences of IUU fishing and overfishing in West Africa, also backed the deal.

However, not all agree the deal was worth the effort. Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless criticized “a weak agreement that fails to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies that lead to overfishing.”

“The WTO has failed again to eliminate subsidized overfishing, and in turn, is allowing countries to pillage the world’s oceans,” he said.

The failure to secure a better deal meant the WTO is losing its credibility, according to Sharpless.

Rashid Sumaila, a professor at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, termed the deal “a good start.” He said he is happy to see that fisheries subsidies is on the agenda for the 2023 WTO ministerial meeting.

“Hopefully, they can begin to fix the weaknesses in the agreement,” Sumaila said. “For example, they have no restrictions on providing subsidies that to lead to overcapacity and overfishing.”

While the deal prevents WTO members from granting or maintaining subsidies for “fishing or fishing-related activities regarding an overfished stock,” Sumaila said he would in particular like to see a ban on subsidies that can lead to overcapacity and overfishing. While WTO agreements are binding, he said he would have liked to have had a more-detailed text “naming specific types of subsidies that are known to be particularly harmful.”