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Horse-eye jacks (Caranx latus) swim by an National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Ocean Service diver during a safety stop. (Original source: National Ocean Service Image Gallery)

International Fisheries Management

Fish stocks and other living marine resources move freely across maritime boundaries.  As such, the United States cannot effectively manage them alone and must cooperate with other nations.  Countries must cooperate to conduct scientific study and set fisheries rules that will ensure that these resources are conserved and managed sustainably.  The United States has worked over many decades to establish a network of regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), treaty-based multilateral bodies and other bilateral, regional, and global organizations that oversee the cooperative sustainable management of shared fish stocks and other living marine resources.  The United States is a member or observer of many of these organizations and agreements, and the Department of State works closely with other U.S. agencies, including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), to represent U.S. interests.  The Department of State also engages in a number of other bilateral and regional cooperation arrangements on fisheries.

U.S. Coast Guard vessel engaging in high seas fisheries enforcement. Source: U.S. Coast Guard

Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing does not respect rules adopted at either the national or international level.  It threatens economic growth, food security, and ocean ecosystems around the world by undermining sustainable fisheries and the law-abiding fishers and communities that depend on them.  IUU fishing can take on many forms, ranging from small-scale vessels misreporting their catch or straying into a neighboring country’s waters, to coordinated efforts by transnational crime syndicates.  IUU fishing can also undermine port and maritime security, as criminal elements may use similar trade routes, landing sites, and vessels as used for trafficking arms, migrants, drugs, and other contraband. As the largest single-country market for fish and fish products, the third largest wild seafood producer, and the fifth largest exporter of fish and fish products, the United States has a particularly strong stake in combating IUU fishing.  The Department of State coordinates closely with other federal agencies, including NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Coast Guard, to implement domestic and international actions related to combatting IUU fishing.

Coral and Ulua found in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Coral reefs found in Papahānaumokuākea are home to over 7,000 marine species, one quarter of which are found only in the Hawaiian Archipelago. (Original source and more information: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Ocean Service Image Gallery)

Addressing Fisheries at the Global Level

Conserving and managing shared fisheries resources requires international cooperation, multilateral diplomacy, and information sharing.  From supporting communities and food and livelihood security, to the impact that fisheries can have on the environment, to the trade of seafood around the globe, work to support sustainable fisheries management is a development, economic and environmental issue.  Building international cooperation to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is an important piece of broader efforts to tackle other security issues including trafficking, terrorism, and multinational crime.  The United States engages through several international organizations of which we are members, including the United Nations, the Food and Agriculture Organization and its Committee on Fisheries, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and other agreements focused on the conservation and management of living marine resources, which provide a forum for States to discuss international fisheries issues, and to develop approaches for addressing them.  The Department of State works closely with other U.S. agencies, including the NOAA Fisheries, to represent U.S. interests within the organizations.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration divers work to free an endangered monk seal that is entangled in marine debris—fishing nets that have been lost or discarded. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Bycatch and Environmental Impacts of Fishing

Healthy fish stocks, capable of producing maximum economic benefits, depend on a healthy and robust marine environment and marine ecosystems.  As part of some of the best-managed fisheries in the world, the U.S. domestic management system includes measures to prevent and mitigate the adverse impacts of fishing activity, including bycatch and destructive fishing practices, as well as to promote conservation and management of other living marine resources that interact with fisheries.  The Department of State, with other federal agencies, works bilaterally, regionally, and globally to adopt strong measures to reduce the bycatch of juvenile fish and vulnerable non-target species, particularly sea turtles, seabirds, and dolphins, and level the playing field for the U.S. industry by promoting our best practices and advocating for the international adoption of measures that match our high domestic standards.

Turtle escaping the bottom of a shrimp net through a turtle excluder device. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Sea Turtles, Shrimp Imports, and Section 609

All sea turtle species are either threatened or endangered.  Some of the contributing factors include incidental capture in fisheries and habitat destruction and degradation.  The United States works to conserve and protect sea turtles through the use and promotion of turtle excluder devices, membership in the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles, and participation in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Marine Turtles and their Habitats.  In addition, the Department of State certifies to Congress each year under Section 609 of U.S. Public Law 101-162 that certain nations harvest shrimp without adversely affecting endangered sea turtle populations, rendering that shrimp eligible for entry into the United States.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future