Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is a global menace. It threatens the health of our oceans and the well-being of people who depend on the world's fisheries. This unethical practice includes fishing without permits, exceeding catch limits, or failing to report catches accurately. The U.S. Interagency Working Group on IUU Fishing leverages all federal agencies with authorities and equities for combating IUU fishing. Recent collaborative efforts with the governments of Panama, Vietnam, and Senegal demonstrate the effectiveness of this group's mission to enhance government collaboration to combat IUU fishing.
Mission: A Coordinated Response to IUU Fishing
The group comprises 21 federal agencies, which coordinate and collaborate to address the dire consequences of IUU fishing and enhance maritime security. The group's primary objective is to strengthen maritime security and eliminate IUU fishing practices on a global scale. The Working Group is co-chaired by NOAA, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Coast Guard. These agencies play a pivotal role in coordinating the U.S. government's strategy to eradicate IUU fishing. The Working Group’s mission revolves around bolstering maritime security, enhancing fisheries management, and combating IUU fishing, all while fostering a strong spirit of international cooperation.
Collective Action in Focus: Missions to Panama, Vietnam, and Senegal
The Working Group must identify priority regions at high risk for IUU fishing. These "priority regions" are areas with a high risk of IUU fishing activity or the entry of illegally caught seafood into regional markets, where countries often lack the capacity to address this illegal activity. The assessments and insights garnered from these priority regions significantly shape the group's initiatives and efforts. The Working Group also designated five priority flag States or administrations:
They were selected for two reasons:
- Evidence of IUU fishing by vessels flagged to these nations
- Willingness to partner with the United States to improve their capabilities for monitoring and effective enforcement
Panama: Evaluating Counter-IUU Fishing Initiatives
The U.S. delegation assessed and evaluated Panama's capabilities and identified areas where improvements are necessary to combat IUU fishing effectively.
This mission embodied the collaborative spirit between the United States and Panama, with its primary aim being the mitigation of illegal fishing. This effort aimed to pinpoint priority areas for joint initiatives, reinforcing Panama as a pivotal regional partner. Throughout the visit, the U.S. delegation engaged with subject matter experts from Panamanian agencies, including:
- SENAN (National Aeronaval Service)
- Health Ministry
- Customs Authority
- Maritime Authority
- Offices within Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama
Discussions during this mission explored opportunities for collaboration. The focus was on operational cooperation, legislation, governance, implementation, enforcement, and traceability and transparency. Panama showcased notable progress in its efforts to combat IUU fishing and recognized the value of U.S. partnership and training to enhance specific areas. This mission concluded with a commitment to unified actions against IUU fishing, symbolizing the shared dedication of both nations to address this global challenge.
Vietnam: Forging a Path to Counter IUU Fishing
In September, a U.S. delegation met with various national and regional agencies responsible for IUU fishing countermeasures in Vietnam. They assessed capabilities, identified areas for improvement, and developed a multi-year plan to strengthen Vietnam's capacity to combat IUU fishing effectively.
Discussions shed light on differences in authorities and highlighted critical areas for collaboration, spanning training, guidance, legal advice, and operational cooperation. Particularly noteworthy was the Vietnamese government's expressed eagerness to fortify its legal framework and improve traceability and transparency in seafood trade. These commitments underscore the significance of collaborative engagement in addressing IUU fishing challenges.
Senegal: Partnering to Strengthen Global Counter-IUU Fishing Capacity
Most recently, the team visited Senegal to assess capabilities and identify areas where U.S. engagement would better enable Senegal to combat IUU fishing in the Gulf of Guinea region. The U.S. delegation met with Senegalese government agencies, industry trade groups, councils overseeing artisanal fishing, and the U.S. Embassy in Dakar. They got a clearer picture of the challenges Senegal faces and the opportunities to make improvements on various time scales.
The team led extensive discussions with Senegalese officials to determine the priority areas where the two countries can form partnerships, including:
Ministry of Fisheries and Maritime Economy
Directorate for Fish Protection and Surveillance
Directorate of Fisheries Management
National Agency for Maritime Activities
The discussions focused on a broad range of foundational disciplines for combating IUU fishing, including:
- Science-based fishery stock assessments and management
- Fishery operations and enforcement
- Tools for increasing maritime domain awareness
- Regional cooperation
- Interagency coordination
- Seafood traceability
- Observer and transshipment policies
The Interagency Working Group aims to conduct a similar mission in Ecuador. It will also continue to engage with Taiwan to determine the best methods for partnering.
These missions exemplify the Interagency Working Group’s dedication to coordinate efforts across federal government agencies to promote collective action to combat IUU fishing. The group's work is pivotal in protecting marine resources and ensuring the sustainability of our oceans. Together with partnering nations like Panama, Vietnam, and Senegal, the group is determined to have a significant impact on this global challenge. We will build the capacity of priority flag States and administrations to become regional leaders toward strengthening maritime security, fostering sustainable fisheries, and eliminating IUU fishing practices.