Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued their Biennial Report to Congress on international fisheries management, including illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and bycatch. This year’s report identifies seven nations for activities related to IUU fishing and 29 countries for bycatch in fisheries. The report, which is published every two years, starts a two-year process for the identified nations to take the necessary steps to address IUU fishing. If the nations take appropriate steps and actions, they will receive a positive certification in the next report, as Ecuador and Korea did this year. If a nation does not adequately address IUU fishing, it is given a negative certification. Mexico was negatively certified in this report and is now subject to restrictions on port access, and NOAA is also recommending trade restrictions, which need to be approved by the President. Oceana welcomes the report and says more must be done to ensure that seafood derived from IUU fishing activities—which can impact the economy, environment, and human rights—does not enter the U.S. seafood market. Oceana in Mexico is advocating for a seafood traceability standard, which would be an important tool to help prevent illegally caught seafood from entering the U.S. market.
Oceana’s deputy vice president for U.S. campaigns, Beth Lowell, released this statement following today’s report:
“NOAA’s report shows the unsettling reality that IUU fishing is alive and well beyond our waters. IUU fishing might be out of sight, but it cannot be out of mind—the Biden-Harris administration must take decisive action to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and close the U.S. market to all illegally sourced products, including seafood caught using forced labor or other human rights abuses. Seafood should not come at the cost of human rights or healthy oceans—period. All seafood should be safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled. We also commend NOAA for identifying nations that failed to address the bycatch of protected living marine resources.
As one of the top importers of seafood, the United States should be a global leader in the fight against IUU fishing to level the playing field for U.S. fishermen and ensure that U.S. dollars are not supporting IUU fishing around the world. Key tools include the identification and certification process, as well as import requirements that set the minimum standard that seafood must meet to enter the U.S. market. To be effective, this biennial IUU report must be paired with real repercussions when a nation is negatively certified. The United States should also expand our import documentation and traceability programs for all seafood to ensure that only safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled products are sold in our country.
The United States can be a leader in traceability of seafood and transparency at sea. We must step up in the global fight against illegal fishing and seafood fraud, level the playing field for honest American fishermen and seafood businesses, and protect consumers and the oceans.”
In May of this year, Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Garret Graves (R-LA) introduced the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act, a comprehensive bill to end IUU fishing, expand transparency, and stop seafood fraud, while strengthening U.S. leadership on issues that threaten our oceans, consumers, and human rights. If passed, this bill would provide consumers with more information about the seafood they eat, require fish to be tracked from boat to plate, increase vessel transparency, prevent illegally caught and sourced seafood from entering the United States, and protect workers and those that rely on a healthy ocean. Additionally, the bill would allow the United States to take stronger action against countries who fail to address IUU fishing and human rights abuses in the seafood sector.
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 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 essential habitats, 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 that play by the rules.
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. In 2016, the U.S. government established the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), requiring catch documentation and traceability for some seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud. SIMP currently only applies to 13 types of imported seafood and only traces them from the boat to the U.S. border. In 2019, Oceana released the results of a seafood fraud investigation, testing popular seafood not covered by SIMP, and found that 1 in every 5 fish tested nationwide was mislabeled, demonstrating that seafood fraud is still a problem in the United States. Seafood fraud ultimately hurts honest fishermen and seafood businesses that play by the rules, masks conservation and health risks of certain species, and cheats consumers who fall victim to a bait–and–switch.
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.
Oceana is working to help stop illegal fishing, increase transparency at sea, and require traceability of all seafood. To learn more about the campaign, visit https://bit.ly/2XW3bha.