In a hearing yesterday in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs, administration officials and fishing industry representatives expressed support for a bill that would strengthen the U.S.’s ability to address the growing global problem of illegal fishing.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing – also known as pirate fishing – is a serious problem that threatens the oceans, honest fishermen, and seafood consumers alike. With bipartisan support led by sponsors Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) and Congressman Frank Guinta (R, NH-1), the bill demonstrates that pirate fishing is an issue not defined by state or by party. It is encouraging to see Congress get serious about addressing this challenge.
The legislation, the “Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act” (H.R. 4100), would provide the U.S. with critical tools to better monitor and track pirate fishing vessels, enforce penalties against those vessels, help prevent illegal product from entering the U.S. market, and protect endangered or threatened species from further depletion. The bill is the companion to S. 52 in the Senate, which was introduced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last May.
“Fishing communities are the lifeblood of Guam, [the Northern Mariana Islands] and other islands in the Pacific… so protecting our fishermen from illegal fishing enhances economic opportunities and protects cultural and natural resources that our communities rely upon,” said Congresswoman Bordallo. “My bill increases capacity for inspection, identification and monitoring of illegal foreign vessels, amends several international agreements to incorporate civil and criminal penalties, and also broadens data-sharing authority with foreign governments in order to identify and penalize nations that do not comply with fisheries management regulations.”
Pirate fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching threatened or endangered species. Because this fishing goes unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess its true impact on our oceans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that pirate fishing leads to global economic losses between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for up to 40% of the catch in certain fisheries.
Rumor has it that the Senate is looking to act on its bill, S. 52, before the end of the year. We hope the House will move H.R. 4100 to the floor soon as well. Last fall, the Obama Administration announced that it was stepping up efforts to crack down on pirate fishing by entering into a joint agreement with the European Union to coordinate efforts. Yet the U.S. currently lacks the necessary enforcement measures to give the agreement teeth. This legislation would provide the U.S. with these tools, strengthening existing fisheries laws and adding new provisions to deter illicit activities.
We commend the House Natural Resources Committee for holding this hearing and putting the spotlight on this issue, and hope that the Committee will take up the bill soon for a vote. This legislation takes an important step forward in the effort to protect our oceans from overexploitation, ensure that law-abiding fishermen compete on a level playing field, and protect consumers who want to make responsible choices when buying seafood.