Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing

Date: 07/21/2010 Description: U.S. Coast Guard vessel engaging in high seas fisheries enforcement.  U.S. Coast Guard

Combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a top international priority. IUU fishing involves fishing activity that does not respect rules adopted at either the national or international level and is a worldwide problem estimated to cost the global fishing industry billions, possibly tens of billions, of dollars a year.

IUU fishing contributes to the overfishing of stocks around the globe by circumventing existing management systems and undermines the sustainability of all fisheries, the communities that depend on them, and food security. The large number of developing states that depend on fisheries for food security and export income are particularly vulnerable.

Networks supporting illegal fishing may also be involved in other illicit activity and transnational crime, including issues such as human rights abuses and forced labor, tax evasion, and weapons and drug trafficking.

Keys to tackling IUU include finding ways to deprive IUU fishers of the economic incentives that drive IUU fishing, ensuring States 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 and amended the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act, creating substantial new obligations to address IUU fishing, including a biennial process to identify States whose vessels engage in IUU fishing and 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.

As both a major fishing State and a major market State, the United States has led efforts in the last several decades to fight IUU fishing. 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, 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.

Because enforcement against IUU fishing on the high seas is difficult, and fish must eventually come to land to enter into commerce, countries have cooperated to develop common port State measures in their ports to combat IUU fishing. These measures were brought together in the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (also known as the Port State Measures Agreement or PSMA), adopted in 2009. The PSMA is a critical component of the global fight against IUU fishing and entered into force on June 5, 2016. The PSMA will have the biggest impact if robust port State measures are globally implemented by all port States and the United States has advocated for the broad adoption and strong and effective implementation of the PSMA and for the adoption of the port State measures identified in RFMOs and other international fora.

One effort to combat IUU fishing is the Safe Ocean Network , which was launched at the 2015 Our Ocean Conference. The Safe Ocean Network is an international effort that seeks to build a global community to strengthen all aspects of the fight against illegal fishing including detection, enforcement, and prosecution.

Through the FAO, countries are also developing a pilot project to implement the Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels (Global Record). The Global Record is intended to provide a tool to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing and related activities, and, along with unique vessel identifiers at the heart of the Global Record, will be invaluable for tracking fishing vessels for the implementation of the Port State Measures Agreement, and strengthening and harmonizing schemes to track trade in high-value fish like tuna.

An important way to combat IUU fishing is to limit bad actors’ ability to sell their catch and earn a profit. Traceability programs require key information – what kind of fish it is, where and when was it caught, how and by whom – that can help markets to identify seafood that came from IUU fishing. The United States is working to put into place a comprehensive traceability program for all fish and seafood entering commerce, whether imported or produced domestically. The first phase of this program includes a new rule for imports of certain fish and fish products identified as particularly vulnerable to IUU fishing and/or seafood fraud. Trade tracking and catch documentation schemes combine the same kinds of core traceability information with a government certification that the seafood was caught or processed in compliance with applicable national or international rules. The United States is working with other countries through the FAO to finalize international best-practice guidelines for these types of programs.

Another key priority is improving the capacity of developing coastal States to manage their domestic fisheries and to combat IUU 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.

On June 17, 2014, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum for “Establishing a Comprehensive Framework to Combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud.” Among other actions the Memorandum established a Presidential Task Force, co-chaired by the Departments of State and Commerce and made up of a broad range of other federal agencies, 14 in total. The Presidential Task Force released its Action Plan on March 15, 2015 with 15 Recommendations for the interagency to pursue going forward. The Action Plan established the National Ocean Council’s Committee on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud (NOC Committee) in April 2015 and is comprised of the same 14 federal agency-members as the Task Force. Following its establishment, the NOC Committee immediately formed federal working groups around each Recommendation detailed in the Action Plan. The NOC Committee has made significant progress towards fulfilling the Action Plan, including supporting ratification and implementation of the Port State Measures Agreement, improving management measures in international organizations to combat illegal fishing, enhancing interagency efforts to detect illegal fishing using marine domain awareness tools, leveraging international trade agreements to address IUU, and improving coordination amongst state and federal enforcement agencies.