BREAKING: Biden Admin. Fails to Deliver Meaningful Action Against Illegal Fishing at Global Our Ocean Conference in Palau
Press Release Date: April 14, 2022
The Biden administration failed to deliver meaningful action to protect our oceans from illegal fishing on the world stage this week at the annual Our Ocean conference, taking place in Palau.
“Despite strong statements from U.S. leadership, including President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama, Special Envoy John Kerry, and Assistant Secretary Monica Medina, and commitments from several other countries, the United States failed to deliver any meaningful action on illegal fishing or transparency at this week’s Our Ocean conference in Palau,” said Beth Lowell, Oceana’s deputy vice president for the United States. “This was a missed opportunity for the Biden administration to lead the world in the fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. We’re disappointed the Our Ocean conference closed without action from the United States on IUU fishing. The time for action is now, our oceans and coastal communities can’t wait. Illegal fishing continues to undermine healthy oceans and everyone that depends on them for food and livelihoods. We’re calling on President Biden to expand programs created under the Obama administration to help keep illegally caught seafood out of the U.S. market. The United States must level the playing field for American fishers, and that starts with holding seafood imports to the same standards as U.S. caught fish, expanding transparency of fishing, and requiring seafood traceability. The Biden administration has an opportunity and obligation to ensure all seafood sold in the United States is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled.”
Background on Illegal Fishing:
In the United States, up to 85% of the fish we consume is imported. A report by the International Trade Commission found that the United States imported $2.4 billion worth of seafood derived from IUU fishing in 2019. IUU fishing is a low-risk, high-reward activity, especially on the high seas where a fragmented legal framework and lack of effective enforcement allow it to thrive. IUU fishing can include fishing without authorization, ignoring catch limits, operating in closed areas, targeting protected wildlife, and fishing with prohibited gear. These illicit activities can destroy important ocean habitat, severely deplete fish populations, and threaten global food security. These actions not only contribute to overfishing, but also give illegal fishermen an unfair advantage over those who play by the rules.
At the first Our Ocean conference in 2014, President Obama championed fighting IUU fishing and seafood fraud. There, he announced a Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud that was comprised of federal agencies charged with identifying actions the U.S. government could take to address these issues. The Task Force released its final recommendations and action plan in March 2015, which included a call for seafood traceability.
In 2016, the U.S. government formally established the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), requiring catch documentation and traceability for some seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud. Unfortunately, SIMP currently only applies to 13 types of imported seafood and only traces them from the boat to the U.S. border. In a report released earlier this year, Oceana showed that gaps in SIMP are allowing U.S. seafood demand to drive IUU fishing around the world.
In January 2021, Oceana released the results of a nationwide poll finding that Americans overwhelmingly support policies to end illegal fishing and seafood fraud. Included among the key findings, 89% of voters agree that imported seafood should be held to the same standards as U.S. caught seafood. Additionally, 81% of voters say they support policies that prevent seafood from being sold in the U.S. that was caught using human trafficking and slave labor. Eighty-three percent of voters agree that all seafood should be traceable from the fishing boat to the dinner plate, and 77% support requirements for all fishing vessels to be publicly trackable. The findings show widespread bipartisan support for policies aimed at increasing transparency and seafood traceability to ensure that all seafood is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled.