Moderator: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Media Hub of the Americas in Miami, Florida. I would like to welcome our participants who have dialed in from the United States and across the region. This is an on-the-record conference call with Vice Admiral Steven Poulin, Atlantic Area Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard, and David Hogan, Acting Director of the Office of Marine Conservation at the U.S. Department of State.
The two officials will discuss U.S. Government efforts and regional cooperation, including the recent Operation Southern Cross, to counter illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Western Hemisphere. Each official will give opening remarks and then answer questions from participating journalists.
We are pleased to offer simultaneous interpretation in Spanish for this briefing. I request everyone to keep that in mind and speak slowly.
And with that, I’ll turn it over to Vice Admiral Steven Poulin.
Vice Admiral Poulin: Thank you, and thank you, everybody. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the United States Coast Guard’s efforts to address the scourge of IUU fishing. IUU fishing is a global problem. Let me restate that: IUU fishing is a global problem. So we look forward to working with our international partners to counter this pervasive threat to safety, security, and prosperity.
Let me provide some data points on the scope of the problem. IUU fishing undermines coastal state sovereignty. It undermines the rule of law and erodes maritime governance. It jeopardizes food security and economic prosperity for more than 3.3 billion people who rely on fish as a primary source of protein. It creates an unlevel playing field for those who are engaged in lawful fishing. I note that more than $400 billion in lost revenue results from IUU fishing. And it puts fish stocks at risk. So this is an economic, a maritime governance, and an environmental crisis.
We in the Coast Guard are putting our strategy to address this problem into action as reflected by the recent deployment of the Coast Guard Cutter Elmer Stone, which we called Operation Southern Cross. Coast Guard Cutter Elmer Stone is the newest Coast Guard national security cutter in the Coast Guard’s inventory. This was its shakedown cruise. That is a cruise that ships use after they are first delivered to ensure that the crew is ready and responsive and can sail the ship. It is unusual to use a shakedown cruise in an operational setting, but we were so committed to IUU – countering IUU fishing that we thought this was the best and most appropriate use of this newest asset in the Coast Guard’s inventory.
So we were very, very pleased that we were able to send Cutter Elmer Stone down to work with committed partners like Brazil, Guyana, Uruguay, and Argentina. In each of those countries, we were able to do information exchanges, professional exchanges, and I think, collectively, were able to renew our commitment to countering IUU fishing. Recently, we also had Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk working with our Panamanian partners to address IUU fishing in the Caribbean Basin.
So our Coast Guard strategy is founded on several key principles. The first is to build partnerships. The second is to expand awareness of the problem globally. Next is to exchange information. And lastly, it’s to look at conducting joint operations to ensure maritime governance and enforcement of fisheries laws.
Thank you again for the opportunity to discuss this with you. I look forward to your questions.
Moderator: Thank you. And now I will turn it over to Acting Director Hogan.
Mr. Hogan: Thank you very much, and like the Vice Admiral, I would like to express my gratitude for this opportunity and for the attention being paid to the problem of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
Because this is a global problem, as the Vice Admiral said, and because the health of the ocean ecosystems, the sustainability of fish stocks, economic security of every country is important, it is – it is a problem that is being tackled by not just the United States but by every country that has a stake in those issues. And so while it is a global problem, it is also a problem that can only be solved through global solutions. That is why the U.S. Department of State, working with our partners in the Coast Guard, NOAA, and other agencies, has integrated the combating of IUU fishing into our foreign policy platforms and why we are prioritizing this as much as the Coast Guard has through their strategic outlook on IUU fishing to their commitment of their newest and most advanced cutter to address this problem in the region.
IUU fishing is particularly important in the Western Hemisphere because of its impact on the economies of the region. Three million men and women depend on the fishing industry for their livelihoods, and it generates more than $20 billion in exports out to the global markets. In light of this economic impact from IUU fishing, as well as the other conditions that are prevailing in the world today, it is more important than ever that we work together to protect the marine resources on which all of our economies rely.
If we look at the issue from the perspective of all the participants in fisheries, the coastal states of Central and South America are also flag states and their vessels are relying on resources that are taken by IUU fishing, and that competition is an economic security threat. The markets that rely on seafood products, including processing sectors within the Western Hemisphere, also rely on the sustainability of products in order to be economically viable.
In addition, IUU fishing undermines science-based fisheries management. The governments of the region work very hard to manage their fisheries with the best available information and to reward their sectors for following the rules that are set to manage those fisheries. IUU fishing undermines all of that and creates even larger problems for the coastal states and the states whose vessels are fishing and participating in these fisheries in the region in a way that follows the rules. And so we are very keen to not only negotiate international agreements to address IUU fishing, as we did with the Port State Measures Agreement, but we’re also very supportive of the work Coast Guard is doing to build relationships and strengthen the operational effectiveness of all of the coastal states to combat IUU fishing.
Thank you again for this opportunity.
Moderator: Thank you. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. Our first question will go to Aline Dieste from AFP. The question is, “U.S. officials have said that IUU fishing has replaced piracy as the leading global maritime security threat. How bad is this problem in the Southern Atlantic and what can the U.S. do to assist countries in the region to counter it?”
Vice Admiral Poulin: This is Vice Admiral Poulin. I will try to address the question first, and I would emphasize a few things. First, IUU fishing is a global problem, and it is a global problem that extends into the Western Hemisphere, and that is one of the reasons why we deployed Stone to work with those countries that I mentioned. We want to continue to work with countries and build partnerships not only here, but in other parts of the world to address this problem by developing partnerships, exchanging information, expanding awareness of where the hotspots are, and then building global capacity in terms of joint operations, joint doctrine I think helps us as a global team to address this very serious problem.
Mr. Hogan: Thanks. I would offer just one additional comment with regard to the scope of the problem in the Southwest Atlantic Ocean. As Vice Admiral Poulin said, it is a global problem. One of the contributing factors to IUU fishing is that vessels that engage in IUU fishing are highly mobile. We saw with the fishing fleet that was creating a threat for the Galapagos Marine Reserve, components of that fleet, including vessels flagged in the PRC, have traversed all the way around and fished in the Southwest Atlantic before returning on their seasonal fishing patterns. Vessels that are committing IUU fishing violations in one part of the world can very quickly be doing the same in another part of the world. So many problems for the coastal states and all of the coastal states on the Atlantic coast of South America have experienced IUU fishing, and the IUU fishing that’s occurring in that region is IUU fishing that could be occurring anywhere else, and that is why it’s important to project the prioritization that the Coast Guard has assigned to IUU fishing wherever it is occurring, including in the Southwest Atlantic. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you. Our next question comes from Gideon Long from the Financial Times. The question is, “Last year we saw a huge Chinese fishing presence in international waters between mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. In your view, did this fall into the category of illegal or unregulated fishing? Do you think we are likely to see a repeat this year? How concerned should Ecuador be by this? And more broadly, how concerned are you by China’s fishing activities in and around Latin American coastal waters?”
Mr. Hogan: Thanks. So I might —
Vice Admiral Poulin: This is —
Mr. Hogan: — start.
Vice Admiral Poulin: Yeah, please.
Mr. Hogan: Thanks very much. It’s important for everyone who is paying attention to this issue to understand the distinction between regular, legal, and legitimate fishing and IUU fishing. Vessels that are fishing on the high seas that are following any rules agreed at the international level, that are reporting their catches to their flag state and other authorities, are not considered IUU fishing. When those vessels violate coastal states’ sovereign rights, when they fish without reporting their catches to the authorities, when they evade identification, and when they are catching species that are proscribed under their national rules or under the rules of the coastal state, that is IUU fishing.
So it is not a question of any particular nation’s fleet, but rather the activities of that fleet or any individual vessel. And that is why we have worked very hard based on the threat to the Galapagos Marine Reserve posed by that fleet to ensure that the PRC understands their flag state responsibilities.
As I was saying, there – the vessels that commit IUU fishing can be fishing legitimately at one moment and then commit an IUU violation and then return to fishing legitimately. So it’s important that all the coastal states and the flag states, such as the PRC, monitor their vessels. The vessels fish seasonally, particularly the vessels that are pursuing the squid stocks in the Pacific. As I said, they traverse around South America and come back to the Pacific when the stocks are available. And Ecuador and all of the coastal states in South America are and remain concerned about the performance of that fleet and any other distant-water fleets where they are unsure or uncertain that the flag state is taking responsibility for those vessels. That’s why it is very important for all of the flag states whose vessels fish in or close to other countries’ waters to have a very strong control over that fleet and to ensure that they are not committing IUU violations. Thank you.
Vice Admiral Poulin: This is Vice Admiral Poulin. The only thing that I would offer is that in August of last year, we deployed the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf to help illuminate illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing around the Galapagos. As I said in my opening remarks, the first step is to scope the problem and then identify trends, illuminate those trends, and then provide a presence to ensure that maritime governance that is so essential to appropriate and lawful fishing. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you. Our next question comes from Mariano Beldyck from Diario Perfil.
Question: Yes, hello. My name is Mariano Beldyck and I’m asking from Argentina. I would like to ask Vice Admiral Steven Poulin from the Coast Guard if he can explain, please, the reasons, the logistic reasons that made impossible the arrival of the Stone vessel to Mar del Plata’s port here in Argentina, and in connection with that, if he could – if it affects in any way the Coast Guard’s plans of working together with this country? Thanks.
Vice Admiral Poulin: Thank you for the question. We were looking forward to Coast Guard Cutter Elmer Stone stopping in Argentina, doing a port call in Argentina at the naval base. As we continued to work the logistics, we found out that the water was not deep enough for that large ship to get in safely, and by the time that we looked at altering our port of call, it was a little too late in the process to get diplomatic approval. But I want to underscore something: We have a committed relationship with Argentina. We look forward to building on that relationship. And even though Coast Guard Cutter Stone was not able to do a port call in Argentina, we had a very successful engagement with our Argentina partners to exchange information, to talk about the nature of the problem, and to renew our mutual commitment to address IUU fishing.
So even though we weren’t able to stop, I think it was a very successful engagement with Argentina and we look forward to future engagements. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you. Our next question was sent by Denis Chabrol from News Talk Radio Guyana. The question is, “What statistics do you have showing the impact of IUU fishing in Guyana and the Caribbean?”
Vice Admiral Poulin: Well, this is Vice Admiral Poulin again. I want to focus on more of an operational answer to that question. We had a very successful engagement with Guyana with Coast Guard Cutter Stone. We were able to not only do information exchanges but also conduct joint operations that are so vital to ensuring an effective presence, an effective enforcement presence at sea. And I think we can continue to build on our relationship with Guyana. The deployment of Coast Guard Cutter Elmer Stone provided a very firm foundation for our continuing partnership with Guyana, and I think it will pay huge dividends for both our countries into the future.
Moderator: Thank you. Our next question goes to James Clancy from the Caribbean Investigative Journalism Network.
Question: Good morning, everyone, and thank you very much for having this call. My question relates specifically to the small island states of the Caribbean. They often do not have the resources to enforce or even monitor the fishing – illegal IUU fishing that may be taking place. Has there been any specific request for help in getting some cooperation that will better enable those small island states to deal with IUU fishing? Thank you.
Vice Admiral Poulin: This is Vice Admiral Poulin. We have a number of existing bilateral agreements with many of the Caribbean nations, and one of the things we’re doing is looking at how we might expand some of those agreements to include IUU fishing. The agreements that we have provide a strong baseline for us to continue to work with these nations to expand maritime domain awareness, which is so vital to understanding the nature of the problem in the Caribbean. And we often have Coast Guard cutters and maritime patrol aircraft in the area because of our counter-drug efforts, and in that context our counter-drug efforts can help us understand patterns and trends of all kinds of maritime conveyances. And that’s one of the ways we are expanding our awareness of IUU fishing in different parts of the hemisphere, is to use our Coast Guard asset – they are multi-mission assets; they’re already down there on patrol – to not only leverage their capabilities for the counter-drug threat but also all threats to the region.
Moderator: Thank you. Our last question will go to Marcelle Fowler-Thomas from The Stabroek News. The question is, “Guyanese fishermen have bemoaned the bullying of Venezuelan fisherfolk in the country’s waters. How can the United States help in combating this?”
Vice Admiral Poulin: This is Vice Admiral Poulin. Our strategy I think is very straightforward, as I outlined, and we hope that countries will join us in that strategy. And we got off to a great start with Guyana, and that is to continue to strengthen our partnerships to expand the awareness of the issues globally, to continue to have that persistent exchange of information, and to look to conduct joint operations in the future with all of our partners to get after this very real and serious problem.
So we look forward to future engagements with Guyana and I feel very optimistic about those engagements given the deployment of Coast Guard Cutter Elmer Stone. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you. That concludes today’s call. I want to thank Vice Admiral Poulin and Acting Director Hogan for joining us, and thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Miami Media Hub at MiamiHub@state.gov. Thank you and have a good day.