Melting fish ice sculpture at World Trade Organization headquarters highlights need for a global deal to end harmful fisheries subsidies

1 March 2021: Friends of Ocean Action joins over 170 civil society organizations in urging world leaders to reach a WTO agreement to stop harmful fisheries subsidies as soon as possible, as agreed in the Sustainable Development Goal for the ocean, SDG14.

Picture above from left to right: Gemma Parkes, Communications Lead, Friends of Ocean Action, World Economic Forum; Peter Wooders, IISD Senior Director, Energy; Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, chair of the fisheries subsidies negotiations at the WTO; Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, WTO Director-General; Marco Lambertini, Director General WWF International

Today the General Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO) began a historic term with newly appointed Director-General, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, at the helm. To mark the occasion, the Stop Funding Overfishing campaign, supported by environmental civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide, including Friends of Ocean Action, positioned an ice sculpture of a fish directly in front of the WTO’s headquarters, urging its members to deliver on their mandate by reaching an agreement as soon as possible to stop subsidies that contribute to the overexploitation of the ocean’s fish stocks.

“Harmful fisheries subsidies must be eliminated as soon as possible, for the good of the ocean and those who depend on it. This demand is recognized under SDG14, thus I urge all those involved in ridding us of harmful fisheries subsidies to at long last get the deal done. In that regard I recognize the positive momentum the appointment of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as DG of the WTO has brought us, and wish to acknowledge the ongoing efforts of the negotiating group at the WTO under the chairmanship of Colombia’s Ambassador Santiago Wills,” said Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean and Co-Chair of Friends of Ocean Action.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala spoke with members of the Stop Funding Overfishing coalition this morning telling them to “Keep pushing. We’re in this together. We have to get it done.” The representatives of the group brought her attention to a policy statement signed by 175 organizations that reminds world leaders that they committed to reaching a deal on ending harmful fisheries subsidies by 2020, as set out in target 6 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal for the ocean, SDG14. The statement points out that the WTO failed to reach an agreement by the deadline and must conclude negotiations as soon as possible.

The installation – an ice sculpture with the accompanying message “Stop the Fish Meltdown” – is intended to bring public and policy-maker attention to the urgency of this request. Over the course of the exhibition, the ice figure will slowly melt, symbolizing the diminishing fish populations in ocean ecosystems.

Okonjo-Iweala, the first woman and first African to head the global trade organization, has said that she strongly supports concluding negotiations on fisheries subsidies this year which she described today as one of the “top priorities”. In discussing her candidacy for the post of Director General last year, she stated: “My vision is also of a rejuvenated and strengthened WTO that will be confident to tackle effectively ongoing issues such as the fisheries negotiations. With political will, outstanding issues of subsidies that lead to overfishing and unsustainable fishing can be concluded…. Should I be elected, I would work with Members to prioritize delivering a successful [twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference] with good outcomes on fisheries, agriculture and other areas.”

Several member organizations of Friends of Ocean Action are also signatories to the Stop Funding Overfishing statement: Conservation International, Fondation Bertarelli, Mission Blue, Ocean Unite, Planeta Oceano, Seafood Legacy, Sustainable Ocean Alliance, The Nature Conservancy and WWF.

“Harmful subsidies have been fuelling overfishing for decades, to the detriment of small-scale fishers and ocean health. It's time to re-write the rules and re-direct public funding with an emphasis on equity, sustainable development and building resilience for both people and nature,” said John Tanzer, WWF Ocean Practice Leader and Friend of Ocean Action.

Media contact:
Gemma Parkes, Communications Lead, Friends of Ocean Action:, +41793052977

Notes to editors:
Friends of Ocean Action is a unique group of over 55 global leaders from business, international organizations, civil society, science and academia who are fast-tracking scalable solutions to the most pressing challenges facing the ocean. It is hosted by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the World Resources Institute. Visit for more information of follow @FriendsofOcean on Twitter.