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Argentinean Fisheries Crisis Highlights Need for WTO Action

WWF calls on governments attending the WTO meeting in Seattle to halt subsidies that drive overfishing.

Gland, Switzerland - WWF, the world's largest conservation organization, today called on governments attending the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting this week in Seattle to take action to halt subsidies that drive overfishing.

Based on new findings, WWF reports that EU payments of more than US $ 162 million to support fishing activities in Argentinean waters have played a direct role in the abrupt decline of its valuable hake fisheries. Once considered one of the world's most productive fisheries, it is now on the verge of commercial extinction and subject to an indefinite fishing ban.

"The Argentinean case illustrates why WTO action on fishing subsidies is so urgently needed," said David Schorr, director of the WWF Endangered Seas Campaign's subsidies initiative. "We applaud the leadership being shown by Iceland, the United States, New Zealand, the Philippines and others in calling for immediate negotiations to agree new WTO disciplines on harmful fishing subsidies. But without new measures, more and more fish stocks will be in danger of collapse."

Iceland, New Zealand, the Philippines and United States are heading a growing list of nations supporting new regulations on fisheries subsidies at the WTO meeting in Seattle. However, the European Union (EU), Japan and a few others continue to hold out.

The recent collapse of Argentina's hake fishery is the latest in a series of examples linking fishing subsidies with the depletion of fish stocks worldwide. These subsidies are part of a global pattern, which total more than US $10 billion a year and represent 20 percent of the industry's total revenues.

Under the EU-Argentinean fisheries agreement from 1994 to 1999, the EU provided 29 vessels to Argentina. The aim of the agreement was to reduce European fishing overcapacity while guaranteeing fish supplies into the EU.

Flying Argentinean flags, these boats rapidly exploited already vulnerable fish stocks. At the same time, the Argentinean government failed to control this new fishing fleet's operations, and neglected its responsibilities to manage its own fish stocks.

"The Argentinean government undertook a fishing agreement with the European Union that has pushed vulnerable fish stocks to the limit," said Javier Corcuera, WWF's Chief Executive Officer in Argentina. "As a result, a partnership that was supposed to spur economic activity and create new jobs, has actually undermined the local fishing community and threatened the viability of this once abundant natural resource."

For more information, contact:

Simone de Manso, WWF International, sdemanso@wwfnet.org, tel +41 22 364 9553 or Martha Wilson at the WTO Meeting in Seattle, mobile +1-206-794-1830

Note to editors:

  • The European Union pays out about US$ 1,418 billion in fisheries subsidies a year, while Japan spends about US$ 800 million.
  • The EU-Argentinean fishing Agreement from May 1994 to May 1999 provided EU-subsidies for the establishment of joint venture and joint enterprise schemes between European and Argentinean fisheries.
  • A Video News Release on the Argentinean fisheries crisis is available from the WWF International TV Centre, Gland, Switzerland, tel.:+41 22 364 95 60, fax:+41 22 364 53 58 (Rosemond Zufferey)