Good afternoon, and many thanks to Whit for that warm welcome. I am pleased to be with you all today at CSIS. I see this as a critical opportunity to have a bit of a reckoning on IUU fishing, by all of us on maritime security, marine resources, and ocean sustainability.
I’ve been thinking about the problem if IUU fishing for more than a decade – both inside and outside government.
What I’ve concluded is that if we are going to address the widescale challenges that threaten our global security and sustainability in the ocean, we must approach them jointly. And we must do it now!
From my own perch at the State Department, to the Admiral’s leadership at the Coast Guard, to the issue experts joining us in the room, we all have fundamental roles to play.
But we’ve been so challenged by the scope and scale of this problem – so far we have failed to get our arms fully around it. We haven’t done enough. Yet.
This cross-sectoral need has never been more clear than when we discuss the growing problems of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
While the actual act of IUU fishing may be a discrete occurrence, its impacts ripple throughout increasingly complex supply chains and geopolitics, far beyond the initial point of harvest.
This makes IUU fishing an inherently global challenge. In order to address it, we’ll need to build on the policies we already have underway. We must expand our approaches at all levels.
We need to be bolder. We need to work more effectively together, and more effectively internationally.
History of U.S. Leadership
For twenty years, the United States has been a leader in building the original toolbox for countries to address IUU fishing.
We helped lead the groundbreaking 2001 International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate IUU Fishing and other global agreements focused on monitoring, control, and compliance.
We’ve helped get the ground rules in place through treaties like the Port State Measures Agreement, and led the campaign to get it entered into force.
We built new capacity building programs and development partnerships to support implementation of all of those “ground rules.”
And we created new transparency and traceability requirements to confirm that U.S. imports of some seafood products are harvested legally and sustainably.
Our Work Today
And yet, we still have a huge IUU problem. And I would argue it’s worse than ever. But I have hope.
Because after much work by Whit and many others in this room, the United States government and its security agencies have recognized the ways that IUU fishing, and its devastating environmental harms, intersect with our core national security and economic challenges.
We now understand even more clearly that addressing IUU fishing is not just about the marine environment, or even just about fish: it’s about human rights, and it’s about climate change. It’s about food security for hundreds of millions of people, and about how we ensure the sustainability of limited marine resources.
Our most recent efforts to expand our work is through our implementation of the Maritime SAFE Act. We now have a working group of twenty agencies — including the State Department, NOAA, the Department of Defense, the intelligence community – working to address IUU in all dimensions: including human rights, the environment, rule of law, and security.
I am particularly grateful for the leadership and support that the Coast Guard is playing in this working group as one of its co-chairs.
But the problem continues to grow – even as we are beginning to see all of its dimensions as a security threat. So our work has to expand, too.
We are not going to solve this problem using an old playbook. We must innovate.
Redoubling our Efforts
The Biden Administration is looking to do just that – and we think the key is to build greater global transparency, and to consider creative new lines of effort.
We now must grapple with the lack of sufficient global cooperation to stop these criminals. And make no mistake, stopping international criminal networks is not easy.
We know from our own experience that the road to understanding and dealing with IUU fishing is a long and complicated one.
For many countries, there is a clear willingness and interest to take effective action against IUU fishing activities – it is a lack of operational or institutional capacity that is holding real progress back.
But for other countries, particularly the worst actors, it’s different. Some are even using fishing to increase their political and military influence, and to undermine the rule of law in natural EEZ’s and shatter well-established legal norms on the high seas.
We’ve seen a growing presence of distant-water fishing fleets off the coast of Africa and South America, as well as growing reports of forced labor practices on ships in disputed waters. These incidents are threatening the food, economic, and maritime security of countries worldwide.
What’s more, this illegal behavior undercuts the rule of law, and encourages a race-to-the-bottom of fishing practices that are rapidly depleting shared global fish stocks.
In the face of all this, the United States government is ready to redouble our efforts, but we realize we can’t do it alone.
Areas for Partnership
We are identifying areas to work with new external partners – in the private sector, with NGOs.
We are also focusing our efforts on a handful of priority regions and flag states so that we are putting our energy and our resources where we can be the most useful.
Through our posts overseas and other diplomatic outreach, we are also looking to combine our efforts internationally with those of like-minded friends and allies.
This is an enormous task and requires creating new partnerships, leveraging new technologies, and finding new ways to share our knowledge and experiences.
It may even require us to create new international institutions or partnerships.
Top of mind for me are the twin challenges of building greater transparency and improving our multilateral enforcement efforts.
I ask you, how can we better collaborate to identify the bad actors, their bankers, their corporate underwriters, their customers, their suppliers, their flag states, and their products… and then stop them wherever we can in this chain of crime and wrong-doing?
Together, we must also must tackle the related challenges of forced labor and safety-at-sea and mitigating and adapting to the significant disruptions that climate change is likely to bring.
There is no panacea to effectively tackle IUU fishing. But we can and should be more ambitious in our approach to combating IUU fishing around the world.
I am looking forward to the upcoming Our Ocean Conference in Palau, from February 16-17, to take the global conversation about IUU fishing and maritime security to the next level.
We are ready to address each layer of the problem with the right tools, the right people, and the right mindset.