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.
Over one-third of fish and fish products enter into international trade, generating billions in trade revenue. But IUU fishers avoid the operational costs associated with sustainable fisheries management to access the lucrative global fisheries market. IUU fishing puts legitimate producers at a disadvantage in this global market, and results in global losses in the tens of billions of dollars each year. Keys to tackling IUU fishing include eliminating the economic incentives that drive it, ensuring that governments effectively monitor and control their fishing vessels, and building capacity in developing countries for fisheries management, enforcement, and good governance.
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 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) and the U.S. Coast Guard, to implement domestic and international actions related to combatting IUU fishing, including:
- Championing the establishment of schemes within regional fisheries management organization (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;
- Implementing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006;
- Supporting international efforts to better assess and curtail illegal transshipment of fish and fish products at sea;
- Working to improve the capacity of developing coastal States to manage their domestic fisheries and to combat IUU fishing, both by building the political will to devote resources to these issues and by providing information, equipment, and expertise from U.S. government agencies;
- Utilizing the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) to prevent certain fish and fish products identified as being particularly at-risk of IUU fishing and/or seafood fraud from entering the U.S. seafood market;
- Supporting international efforts to curb IUU fishing, like the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate IUU Fishing, the Port State Measures Agreement, and the Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization;
- Supporting bilateral and cooperative fisheries law enforcement agreements between the U.S. Coast Guard and partner countries known as “shiprider” agreements, which support nations with limited resources through personnel training and by placing their enforcement personnel on U.S. vessels, where they may exercise their law enforcement authorities during enforcement operations.
Want to know more about IUU fishing? Visit NOAA Fisheries’ Question and Answer on IUU Fishing.
Maritime SAFE Act Interagency Working Group on IUU Fishing
The Maritime Security and Fisheries Enforcement (SAFE) Act was passed in December 2019 as part of Public Law No: 116-92, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. Under the Maritime SAFE Act, the United States will work through a whole-of-government approach to strengthen the global fight against IUU fishing and maritime security threats, including through a new interagency Working Group on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing. Led by NOAA Fisheries, over 20 U.S. government agencies and offices make up the new Interagency Working Group. The Department is proud to serve alongside NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Coast Guard as co-chairs, and look forward to stepping into the Chair position as it rotates among the three agencies in the future. OES will also lead other work under the Act to combat IUU fishing and the threats it poses to sustainable fisheries, economic and food security, and maritime security.
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006 (MSRA) amended the main U.S. domestic fisheries legislation to add the first-ever comprehensive mandates to improve international fishery conservation and management, with an emphasis on strengthening controls on IUU fishing. The MSRA requires the Secretary of Commerce to provide a biennial report to Congress on international fisheries, which includes identifying States whose vessels have engaged in IUU fishing. The Department of State works closely with the NOAA Fisheries in the lead-up and preparation of this report.
Once a nation is identified, the Department of State works with NOAA Fisheries to initiate a two-year consultation process to encourage that nation to take necessary measures to address the issue for which it was identified. Following these consultations, NOAA Fisheries determines whether to negatively or positively certify the identified nation in the next Report to Congress. A positive certification is issued if the nation has provided evidence of actions that address the activities for which it was identified. A negative certification may result in denial of U.S. port access for fishing vessels of that nation, and potential import restrictions on fish or fish products.
Seafood Import Monitoring Program
The Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) is a key component of a U.S. seafood traceability system designed to prevent the products of IUU fishing or misrepresented seafood from entering the $20.5 billion U.S. market. SIMP created mandatory permitting, data reporting, and record-keeping requirements for U.S. importers of 13 seafood species and species groups identified as being particularly vulnerable to IUU fishing or seafood fraud. These are: Atlantic cod, Atlantic blue crab, abalone, dolphinfish (Mahi Mahi), grouper, red king crab, Pacific cod, red snapper, sea cucumber, sharks, shrimp, swordfish, and albacore, bigeye, skipjack, yellowfin, and bluefin tuna. The information collected through SIMP includes details about what the product is, where and how it was produced, and how it moved through the value chain before reaching the United States. Other programs collect comparable information for U.S.-produced seafood products of the same species. Traceability measures like SIMP help to facilitate legal trade for law-abiding fishers and seafood producers in the United States. OES works closely with NOAA Fisheries to coordinate with U.S. trading partners and support the effective implementation of SIMP.