Executive summary

Globally, fisheries are an important source of nutritious food and play a key role in global food security. They also provide livelihoods and play an important role in the local economy of coastal communities in many countries. As such, governments regulate and support fisheries to ensure they are both productive and sustainable, maintain fishers’ incomes in the face of shocks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the large-scale aggression by Russia against Ukraine, and ensure the well-being of people living in areas where alternative income sources are scarce.

However, government support can also pose risks to the sustainability and productivity of fisheries when it encourages the build-up of excess fishing capacity; overfishing; and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. This is more likely to happen when fishing is not limited to sustainable levels. When government support encourages unsustainable fishing, it ultimately compromises fishers’ livelihoods – harming the productivity, and the very existence, of the resource on which they depend, while potentially making them more dependent on support in the process. In such cases, support is also generally not effective at raising fishers’ incomes and can have unintended negative impacts on the competitiveness of small-scale fishers.

The health of fish stocks is one of the main determinants of fisheries performance. Sustainably managing fish stocks and supporting fisheries in ways that do not compromise the health of resources is fundamental to the social, economic and environmental performance of the fisheries sector and its resilience to shocks, including those caused by climate change.

This edition of the OECD Review of Fisheries brings together available data on fish stock health, fisheries management, and support to fisheries in OECD countries and the main fishing nations outside the OECD to assess the health of fisheries and investigate how public policies could better support fisheries’ contribution to global food security and the ocean economy towards blue transformation.

According to the most recent stock assessments from the 32 countries and economies covered by the OECD fisheries management indicators, 64% of assessed stocks are in good health, 18% fall below sustainability standards, and for another 18%, assessments are not conclusive (and their health status remains undetermined). Further, just under half of the stocks in good health also meet higher management standards for optimising productivity (i.e. they are abundant enough to allow the maximising of catch volume or value).

Effective fisheries management is vital for maintaining fish stock heath and optimising their productivity. Data collected for this report show that fisheries management typically involves a range of measures to control how much fish can be caught and how, when and where it can be caught. Management also varies considerably across fisheries. In 2021, about three-quarters of the fish stocks making up the most valuable species for the countries and economies considered were managed with total allowable catch (TAC) limits, that is, caps on the amount of fish that can be harvested. TACs are believed to be one of the most important tools for ensuring the health of fish stocks. In 2020, species covered entirely by TACs accounted for USD 9.2 billion in landings, or 61% of the value of landing for all the species in the data set. This equates to 12.6 million tonnes of fish, or 81% of all these landings by volume.

The OECD Fisheries Support Estimate (FSE) data set covers 40 countries and economies, which together accounted for 90% of world landings over 2018-20. On average, during that period, they together provided annual support of USD 10.4 billion to the fisheries sector. This support equated to about 11% of the average value of landings in these countries and economies over the period, down from about 14% in 2012-14.

The countries providing the greatest levels of support to their fisheries also tend to have some of the largest fisheries sectors. Six economies accounted for 86% of all support reported in the FSE in 2018-20: the People’s Republic of China – 38% (down from just under half of all reported support in 2012-14), Japan – 13%, the United States – 10%, Canada – 8%, Brazil – 6%, while EU Member countries together accounted for just under 9%. These six economies were also in the top seven in terms of global catch volume, fleet capacity or employment. When considered as a share of the value of landings, per gross tonne of fleet capacity or on a per fisher basis, the support was highest in Poland, Sweden, Slovenia, Denmark and Brazil.

The FSE database is, however, made up of many different support policies that vary in nature and potential socio-economic or environmental outcomes. Thus, when comparing levels of support, it is informative to distinguish between the types of policies being considered and to contextualise the levels of support with appropriate measures of sector size.

In OECD countries, on average, 42% of the support provided over 2018-20 was targeted at ensuring productive and sustainable fisheries through spending on management, monitoring, control and surveillance (MMCS). Spending on MMCS has increased over time and is now the largest type of support in OECD countries. At the same time, 12% of fisheries support in the OECD was granted through policies that present a high risk of encouraging unsustainable fishing in the absence of effective fisheries management – primarily as support to fuel and vessels. Another 33% of support was granted through policies that can present a moderate, yet non-negligible, risk of encouraging unsustainable fishing – notably through support to infrastructure and support to income (which respectively accounted for 19% and 12% of total support). In emerging economies, the majority (53%) of support provided in 2018-20 came from policies that present a high risk of encouraging unsustainable fishing in the absence of effective fisheries management – primarily as support to fuel.

Governments should rebuild the 18% of stocks which fall below sustainability standards. This is needed to ensure their long-term health and will also improve their productivity and economic returns in the fisheries sector. Where rebuilding plans have not already been adopted, fisheries managers should consider reviewing their current management action to help rebuild stocks. Going further to ensure the stocks already in good health are also fished optimally (to maximise value or harvest volume) will also lead to economic gains.

In addition, governments should continue to invest in science-based stock assessments to understand the health and productivity of unassessed fish stocks and stocks with undetermined status, notably those of commercial importance. This would likely improve fisheries’ sustainability and increase economic returns where overfishing is occurring but has not been detected or where stocks are underfished. Developing methods to assess stocks even where data are scarce and capacity limited will become increasingly important to inform adaptive management, notably as climate change continues to impact fish abundance and the location of stocks.

Further, investing in linking information on stock management and stock health would help governments understand better where management is effective, optimise fisheries management plans, and ultimately improve the health and productivity of fish stocks further. To facilitate such analysis, governments should consider adopting an internationally agreed-upon naming convention for reporting information on stocks, which could include using ASFIS (Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Information System) species codes, where possible. Consistent stock naming is especially important for shared stocks, which are likely to increase in number due to climate change.

There is also scope to improve fisheries support policy mixes to minimise the potential for detrimental impacts on fish stocks. Countries should carefully review the policies that can present risks of encouraging unsustainable fishing and determine whether recipients of such support operate in sustainably managed fisheries. Where this is not the case, countries should consider better targeting these policies; for example by attaching eligibility conditions or using alternative forms of support. Countries may also want to move away from policies which can present risks of harming fish stocks more generally, as a precautionary approach, given the difficulty and cost of regularly monitoring whether individual recipients of support are operating in sustainably managed fisheries. In addition, countries should ensure they can effectively exclude those involved in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing from government support. This report presents a range of policy options to this effect.

Eliminating support that can present a high risk of encouraging unsustainable fishing will also have beneficial impacts on the resilience and equity of the fisheries sector, as these types of policies can have inequitable impacts on small-scale fishers and are generally not effective at raising fishers’ incomes. Money can be repurposed for sustainable fisheries management, enforcement, and research into the health of fish stocks and the impact of climate change. Where needed, direct income support can help ensure fishers’ livelihoods in particular circumstances.

In June 2022, members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed on a series of disciplines to eliminate some of the most potentially harmful types of subsidies: those that benefit IUU fishing; those that benefit the fishing of overfished stocks; and those that benefit fishing in the unregulated high seas. Governments should accept the WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies so that it can enter into force and continue negotiating at the WTO to agree on disciplines to eliminate other potentially harmful subsidies, such as those that encourage overcapacity and overfishing. The evidence presented in this report, and the risk-based framework proposed to auto-evaluate the risks that some support policies may present to fish stock health, can support countries in implementing these reforms.


This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area.

The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

Note by the Republic of Türkiye
The information in this document with reference to “Cyprus” relates to the southern part of the Island. There is no single authority representing both Turkish and Greek Cypriot people on the Island. Türkiye recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Until a lasting and equitable solution is found within the context of the United Nations, Türkiye shall preserve its position concerning the “Cyprus issue”.

Note by all the European Union Member States of the OECD and the European Union
The Republic of Cyprus is recognised by all members of the United Nations with the exception of Türkiye. The information in this document relates to the area under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

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