Combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a top U.S. priority. IUU fishing undermines efforts to conserve and manage shared fish stocks and threatens the sustainability of all fisheries.
While the most visible face of IUU fishing is formerly legal vessels now unsupervised and fishing under “flags of convenience,” it occurs in every fishery, in every registry. Estimates of the global value of IUU catch range around $9-12 billion each year, and illegal fisheries are often intertwined with drug trafficking, labor exploitation, environmental degradation, and organized crime. The large number of developing states that depend on fisheries for food security and export income are particularly vulnerable.
Keys to tackling IUU include finding ways to deprive fishers of the economic benefits of illegal fishing, increasing leverage on States to effectively monitor and control their fishing vessels, and building capacity for enforcement and good governance in developing States.
The Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the main U.S. domestic fisheries legislation, was reauthorized in 2006 with substantial new obligations to address IUU fishing, including the prospect for action against nations whose vessels engage in IUU fishing. The State Department works closely with the National Marine Fisheries Service to implement these provisions.
The United States has led efforts in the last decade to fight IUU fishing. Led by the State Department, the United States supported development in 2001 of an International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate IUU Fishing through the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and, pursuant to this, we adopted our own National Plan of Action in 2004.
The United States also championed the establishment of schemes within regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) to identify and penalize IUU vessels, limit port and market access by nations that fail to curb IUU fishing, and provide strong monitoring, control, and surveillance of all fisheries.
Negotiations continue at the FAO to craft a legally binding instrument on port State measures to combat IUU fishing. The United States strongly supports the effort, endorsed by the 27th session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries in March 2007.
Additionally, a recent focus has been on identifying and reducing the economic drivers behind IUU fishing. Initiatives now underway include developing a global record of fishing vessels – including transport and support vessels – that includes information on beneficial ownership, negotiating a new agreement on actions States should take to control their ports, and strengthening and harmonizing schemes to track trade in high-value fish like tuna.
Another key priority is improving the capacity of developing coastal States to manage their domestic fisheries and to combat illegal fishing by other States in their waters, both by building the political will to devote resources to these issues and by providing information, equipment, and expertise from USG agencies and NGOs.