President Biden Issues National Security Memorandum to Combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing - Oceana USA

President Biden Issues National Security Memorandum to Combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing

Oceana Says Efforts Are a Step Forward, but More Action Is Needed

Press Release Date: June 27, 2022

Location: Washington


Megan Jordan | email: | tel: 202.868.4061

President Biden issued a national security memorandum today to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and associated labor abuses. The memorandum — which coincides with the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal — calls for a cross-agency approach to tackle IUU fishing, forced labor, and other human rights abuses in the seafood supply chain. The memorandum directs government agencies to “use the full range of existing conservation, labor, trade, economic, diplomatic, law enforcement, and national security authorities” to address the problem of IUU fishing and associated labor abuses. 

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.   

Oceana released the following statement from Beth Lowell, vice president for the United States: 

“President Biden is taking steps forward in the fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and the associated labor abuses. This memorandum signifies real progress in pulling together the full force of the U.S. government in the fight against IUU fishing, forced labor, and other human rights abuses, but more still needs to be done. The memorandum directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program to include some additional species, but it falls short from requiring the program to apply to all seafood imports, which is key to stopping illegal products from entering the U.S. market. Until the United States holds all seafood imports to the same standards as U.S.-caught fish, illegally sourced seafood will continue to be sold alongside legal catch. Oceana looks forward to working with the Biden administration to implement this memorandum and building upon the progress announced today.”  

Background on Illegal Fishing:  

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (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.   

The U.S. government formally established the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) in 2016, requiring catch documentation and traceability for some seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud. Currently, this applies to just 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.

A 2021 nationwide poll from Oceana found that Americans overwhelmingly support policies to end illegal fishing and seafood fraud. Included among the key findings, 89% of voters agreed that imported seafood should be held to the same standards as U.S. caught seafood. Additionally, 81% of voters said they support policies that prevent seafood that was caught using human trafficking and slave labor from being sold in the U.S. Eighty-three percent of voters agreed that all seafood should be traceable from the fishing boat to the dinner plate, and 77% supported 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.