Every day, the United States works with our partners across the world to confront illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. IUU fishing activities hurt law-abiding U.S. fishermen and their consumers, damage economies of developing coastal nations, and threaten marine resources. The global economic impact resulting from these activities is in the billions, or even tens of billions, of dollars each year. Furthermore, IUU fishing is sometimes linked to criminal activity, such as human trafficking, including forced labor, drug trafficking, smuggling, and other forms of transnational crime. Wherever it occurs, IUU fishing undermines global maritime rules-based order, which has been essential to global prosperity and development for the last 70 years.
June 5 marks the annual United Nations International Day for the Fight Against IUU Fishing. This day raises awareness of the impact of IUU fishing as one of the greatest threats to the sustainability of the world’s ocean resources. IUU fishing refers not only to illegal fishing activities, but also the often overlooked, but equally important U’s in IUU fishing activities. Unreported and unregulated fishing refers to fishing activities that are not reported, insufficiently regulated, or are misreported to relevant authorities. This hinders the ability for scientists to fully assess the health of fish stocks and endangers our food security.
Tackling all these issues requires particular, concerted action by different agencies and different operational and legal frameworks. It also includes a large net of coordination among regional fisheries management organizations, foreign governments, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector. NOAA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Department of State recently began implementing a law which advances a “whole-of-government” strategy to fight IUU fishing.
The Maritime Security and Fisheries Enforcement Act (SAFE) Act was passed in December 2019. It directed twenty-one federal agencies to establish a central forum to coordinate and strengthen their efforts—the U.S. Interagency Working Group on IUU Fishing. This Working Group set up mechanisms for agencies to:
Regularly share information and coordinate efforts
Strengthen maritime enforcement
Advance public-private partnerships
Provide technical assistance on IUU fishing
During its first year, member agencies developed an initial set of priorities and activities that included creating specific sub-working groups to collaborate on issues such as maritime intelligence, public-private partnerships, and human trafficking. The Working Group continues to conduct a series of outreach engagements with industry and the private sector. Moving forward, the Working Group will engage with various public and private stakeholders on building coordinated approaches in the priority regions where the Working Group has determined that IUU fishing issues are prevalent.
Combating IUU fishing is a top priority for the United States, and communication, collaboration and strategic coordination will be key in bringing about tangible results. The efforts of the Interagency Working Group now sit at the heart of our government’s coordination on tackling IUU fishing practices and setting the conditions where IUU fishing is neither accepted nor commonplace in the future. We are committed to continue working together on best practices and sharing results across agencies and partnerships to encourage their further adaptation and replication.
Paul Doremus, Ph.D., National Marine Fisheries Service
Acting Assistant Administrator for Fisheries
Constance Arvis, U.S. Department of State
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Fisheries, and Polar Affairs in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Rear Admiral Scott Clendenin, U.S. Coast Guard
Assistant Commandant for Response Policy