As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we want to highlight history in the making. For the first time ever, a trailblazing team of three women — OES Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) for Oceans, Fisheries, and Polar Affairs, Maxine Burkett, NOAA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Fisheries, Dr. Kelly Kryc, Ph.D., and U.S. Coast Guard’s Assistant Commandant for Response Policy, Rear Admiral JoAnn Burdian — is leading the Maritime Security and Enforcement Act Interagency Working Group: a powerhouse collection of 21 federal agencies charged with tackling the global scourge of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
IUU fishing is an environmental, security, and economic crisis that recently overtook piracy as the greatest threat to our ocean. Based on the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO), IUU fishing represents up to 26 million tons of fish each year, which results in billions of dollars lost annually and undermines fish stock sustainability. It also threatens food security as almost half of the world relies on fisheries and aquaculture as a major source of animal protein — as well as a key source of micronutrients like calcium, iron, zinc, and essential omega-3 fatty acids.
Countering IUU fishing is therefore complicated work, as the issue is intertwined with a host of other international security issues, including transnational organized crime, human trafficking, labor abuses, market and trade distortions, and environmental degradation. Given these dynamics, effectively combatting IUU fishing requires a mix of actions to strengthen governance, improve information sharing to better track and understand what is happening on the water, build enforcement capacity, and use financial and market tools to deny profits to IUU fishing operators.
With these three women at the helm, the United States is well positioned to lead the global fight against IUU fishing. Under their leadership, the Maritime Security and Enforcement Act Interagency Working Group is tackling IUU fishing through a strategic, concerted, and collective set of actions and making tangible progress. For example, in 2022, they published the United States’ first National Five-Year Strategy for Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing.
They are building on the foundation of counter-IUU fishing work the United States and partners have laid over the years to fill critical gaps and rally nations around the world to address this problem. And they’re doing all that while also making history!
About the Author: Tara Pray serves as the Coast Guard Liaison in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs’ Office of Marine Conservation.