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

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.  Bycatch is the capture or entanglement of non-target species, juvenile fish, or other animals like seabirds, marine mammals, or endangered sea turtles in fishing gear.  Lost and abandoned fishing gear can also continue to fish indiscriminately, creating bycatch and scouring habitats for long periods of time.

The United States works to 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.  The Department of State, with other federal agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), 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.  We also press for stronger conservation measures for sharks and other species that are particularly vulnerable to overfishing.  The United States works to ensure that multilaterally agreed conservation and management measures incorporate ecosystem considerations, are consistent with the best available scientific advice, and use the precautionary approach as described in the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement.

Marine Mammal Protection Act

The Marine Mammal Protection Act Import Provisions rule, finalized in 2016, requires harvesting nations to apply for and receive a comparability finding in order to continue exporting seafood to the United States.  The regulations establish procedures that a harvesting nation must follow, and conditions they must meet, to receive a comparability finding for a fishery.  The final rule also establishes procedures for intermediary nations to certify that exports from those nations to the United States do not contain fish or fish products subject to an import prohibition.  The final rule gave foreign harvesting nations five years, until 2022, to ensure their regulatory programs are comparable in effectiveness to U.S. programs.  The Department of States works closely with NOAA Fisheries in its outreach and consultations with harvesting nations to assist their implementation of the rule.

Shark Conservation and Management

Sharks are targeted in fisheries and also caught incidentally in large numbers as bycatch.  The high value of dried shark fins in certain markets drives the fin trade and incentivizes wasteful fishing practices like “finning”, where the fins are cut off of sharks and the bodies discarded at sea.  Most sharks are slow growing and slow to reproduce, making them highly vulnerable to overexploitation.  But few shark harvesting countries or regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) have put in place robust conservation and management measures for these stocks, and basic data and scientific assessments are lacking for many shark populations.

The United States places a high priority on the effective conservation and management of sharks.  The international community, including the United States, has taken measures to address shark conservation, including: the development of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s International Plan of Action for Conservation and Management of Sharks; listing shark species on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES); and signing the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

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