Congress took a strong step forward today in the fight against illegal fishing, as Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) introduced legislation to fight this growing global problem that threatens our oceans, honest fishermen and seafood consumers worldwide.
The bill is cosponsored by Representatives Frank Guinta (R, NH-01), Sam Farr (D, CA-17), Gregorio Kilili Sablan (D-MP), Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS), and Donna Christensen (D-VI).
The legislation, titled the “Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act,” 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.
Illegal, or pirate, fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching species that may be threatened or endangered. Because this fishing is unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess the true impact on our oceans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates, however, that pirate fishing results in global economic losses of between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for as much as 40% of the catch in certain fisheries.
In the fall of 2011, the U.S. and the European Union announced a joint agreement to combat pirate fishing. While this sends a strong message that the EU and the U.S. – the first and third-largest seafood importers in the world, respectively – are serious about cracking down on illegal activity, the U.S. still lacks the necessary enforcement tools to give the agreement teeth. Congresswoman Bordallo’s bill, as well as S. 52, would provide the U.S. with these tools by strengthening existing international fisheries laws and adding new provisions to deter illicit activities.
We commend Congresswoman Bordallo and the original cosponsors for taking this important step forward to protect our oceans from exploitation, ensure that law-abiding fishermen compete on a level playing field, and protect consumers who want to make responsible choices when buying seafood.