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


Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a pervasive global maritime security threat.  By undermining international agreements and fisheries conservation measures, IUU fishing jeopardizes food and economic security with destabilizing effects on vulnerable coastal states.  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 smuggling migrants, and trafficking arms, drugs, and other contraband.

Fisheries and aquaculture products are among the most internationally traded food commodities, with over one-third of fisheries and aquaculture products entering into international trade, generating billions in 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.

The Department is leading the efforts to eliminate the harmful effects that IUU fishing has around the world.  This is a growing problem that can only be solved by strategic, concerted, and collective global action.  Through our work, we aim to:

  • Strengthen overall ocean governance and making multilateral processes more effective;
  • Increase fishing transparency requirements, information sharing within the USG and with our allies and partners, and cooperative enforcement and penalty tools;
  • Apply innovative technologies to identify IUU fishing and hold bad actors accountable; and
  • Grow the ranks of collaborators around the world to raise our collective ambition to counter IUU fishing.

As the largest single-country market for fish and fish products and the fifth largest wild seafood producer, the United States has a particularly strong interest in addressing 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 combating 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 and jurisdictions 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 maritime law enforcement agreements with foreign partners, enabling the U.S. Coast Guard to cooperate to counter illicit transnational maritime activity including IUU fishing. Under the shiprider provision included in these agreements, the U.S. Coast Guard supports partner nations’ enforcement capabilities by providing operational platforms through which nations with limited resources may exercise their sovereign rights.
  • Launching, with Canada and the United Kingdom, the IUU Fishing Action Alliance that brings together partners who are leading the fight against IUU fishing – countries, organizations, and stakeholders alike – to build legal, transparent, and sustainable fisheries around the world. Members of the Alliance support the IUU Fishing Action Alliance Pledge to take action to:
  1. Implement international agreements to prevent IUU fishing;
  2. Promote active monitoring control and surveillance of fisheries;
  3. Encourage transparency and data sharing.

To learn 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 (Public Law 116-92, codified in 16 U.S.C. § 8001 et seq.) establishes a whole-of-government approach to counter IUU fishing and related threats to maritime security, such as transnational organized crime, drugs and arms trafficking, and forced labor.  It calls for specific U.S. government actions, in partnership with international organizations, other countries, and civil society, to advance these U.S. policies in “priority regions” and “priority flag states” and establishes a 21-member Interagency Working Group on IUU Fishing to coordinate these efforts.  The Biden Administration further reiterated the role of this Interagency Working Group in the National Security Memorandum on Combating IUU Fishing and Associated Labor Abuses and elevating the issue as a top priority.

In October 2022, the Interagency Working Group released the National Five-Year Strategy for Combating IUU Fishing .  The Strategy outlines three strategic objectives:

  1. Promote sustainable fisheries management and governance through collaboration with other countries, authorities, and stakeholders and within international and regional organizations.
  2. Enhance Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (MCS) of marine fishing operations through coordination and information sharing across intelligence, enforcement, and regulatory agencies, as well as foreign partners and non-governmental organizations (NGOs); continue to conduct at-sea MCS operations aggressively to compel compliance with U.S. law and international fisheries conservation and management measures.
  3. Ensure only legal, sustainable and responsibly harvested seafood enters trade; support collective efforts to identify and address labor abuses including forced labor throughout the seafood supply chain.

In June 2023, the Department of State became Chair of the interagency working group. Deputy Assistant Secretary Mahlet Mesfin currently serves as Chair for the Department.  She is supported by two deputy Chairs: Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly Kryc of NOAA and Rear Admiral Jo-Ann Burdian of Coast Guard.

To get in touch with the Interagency Working Group please email maritimesafe@groups.state.gov.

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 NOAA Fisheries in the lead-up to 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.  OES works closely with NOAA Fisheries to coordinate with U.S. trading partners and support the effective implementation of SIMP.

U.S. Department of State

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