NOAA Engagement With Nations and Entities Under the Moratorium Protection Act
The High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act is one of the United States’ most effective and historically impactful engagement tools.
The High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act requires that NOAA identify nations and entities whose vessels are engaged in IUU fishing, fishing practices that result in the bycatch of protected marine life, and/or fishing activities that target or incidentally catch sharks.
Since our inaugural report to Congress in 2009, NOAA has made a total of 78 unique identifications for IUU fishing, shark catch, or bycatch of protected marine life. NOAA identified some nations in multiple reports and/or under multiple provisions, meaning that, while there have been 78 identifications total, over 40 nations and entities have been identified at least once in the eight reports published thus far.
Following identification in our biennial report to Congress on Improving International Fisheries Management, NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs, Trade, and Commerce leads a consultation process to encourage and press for necessary measures to address the issue(s) in advance of the next Report to Congress. Nations and entities can either receive a positive (issue addressed) or negative certification (issue unaddressed or not fully addressed). A negative certification results in denial of U.S. port access and potential import restrictions on fish or fish products. View current port restrictions under the Moratorium Protection Act.
The three-step process of identification, consultation, and certification has resulted in many successes. Identified nations have strengthened their national fisheries laws, taken flag state action against their vessels, and improved their engagement in compliance processes and monitoring, control, and surveillance efforts.
Identifications and Outcomes
2009 Report to Congress:
France, Italy, Libya, Panama, People’s Republic of China, and Tunisia
2011 Report to Congress:
Colombia, Ecuador, Italy, Panama, Portugal, and Venezuela
2013 Report to Congress:
Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, Italy, Korea (Republic of), Mexico, Panama, Spain, Tanzania, and Venezuela
2015 Report to Congress:
Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Portugal
2017 Report to Congress:
Ecuador, Mexico and Russian Federation
2019 Report to Congress:
Mexico, Ecuador, and the Republic of Korea
2021 Report to Congress:
China, Costa Rica, Guyana, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Senegal, and Taiwan (IUU fishing activities)
Algeria, Barbados, China, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, European Union, France, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Senegal, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and Turkey (bycatch of protected marine life)
2023 Report to Congress:
Angola, Grenada, Mexico, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, The Gambia, and Vanuatu.
2009 Report to Congress
In its inaugural report, NOAA identified six nations–France, Italy, Libya, Panama, People’s Republic of China, and Tunisia for IUU fishing activities. Results of those consultations were announced in the 2011 biennial report.
Outcomes Announced in 2011 Report
France was identified based on the activities of French-flagged vessels engaged in fishing activities that violated International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) conservation and management measures during calendar years 2007 and 2008. After its identification and consultation with NOAA, France adopted measures that implemented EC Regulations (laying down certain technical measures for the conservation of fishery resources), and took punitive action against vessels that were found by the French Government to be violating these measures. France also provided information to NOAA indicating that it has increased its inspections and monitoring of the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery.
Italy was identified in 2009 based on the activities of several Italian-flagged vessels that violated ICCAT measures during 2007 or 2008. After its identification and consultation with NOAA, Italy provided information and corrective actions on each of the specific vessel activities, and adopted laws that facilitate enforcement and, at the same time, increased enforcement efforts. These efforts increased compliance with fishery management measures.
Libya was identified in 2009 because two of its vessels allegedly engaged in fishing activities that violated ICCAT conservation and management measures during 2007. After its identification and consultation with NOAA, the government of Libya provided information that it had taken appropriate corrective action to address the IUU fishing activity. It withdrew the licenses of the two vessels and removed them from the ICCAT Record of Vessels that are authorized to operate in the Convention Area.
Panama was identified because several of its vessels fished in a manner that violated Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) conservation and management measures during calendar years 2007 and 2008. After identification and consultation with NOAA, the Government of Panama took corrective action for, or provided information challenging the basis of, each instance of IUU fishing noted in the 2009 Report to Congress. To address IUU fishing activity, Panama put into place new laws to prohibit fishing without authorization and fishing activities that undermine fisheries management requirements.
China was identified for IUU fishing activities of four of its vessels. After its identification and consultation with NOAA, the People’s Republic of China demonstrated that penalties were applied to the four vessels, by revoking their licenses and confining them to port.
Tunisia was identified for vessels that were allegedly fishing contrary to an ICCAT measure prohibiting the use of driftnets in fisheries of large pelagic stocks in the Mediterranean Sea. The Government of Tunisia established a vessel monitoring system for all tuna fishing vessels longer than 24 meters and submitted to ICCAT information obtained on the fishing grounds of these vessels.
2011 Report to Congress
In its 2011 report, NOAA identified six nations as having engaged in IUU fishing: Colombia, Ecuador, Italy, Panama, Portugal, and Venezuela. The U.S. Government consulted extensively with them.
Outcomes Announced in 2013 Report
Colombia, identified in 2011 because several of its vessels fished in a manner that violated conservation and management measures of the IATTC during calendar year 2009,adopted resolutions so that its vessels will comply with IATTC closure periods and tuna conservation measures. Colombia also adopted a decree authorizing the application of IATTC measures to regulate its domestic fishing capacity and a resolution providing for increased fisheries enforcement.
Ecuador was identified because several of its vessels violated conservation and management measures established by the IATTC. After its identification and consultation with NOAA, Ecuador addressed the IUU fishing activities of vessels through investigations and issuance of fines and appropriate penalties.
Italy was identified for several different violations of ICCAT requirements, including driftnet use. After its identification and consultation with NOAA, the Government of Italy adopted new decrees to increase its ability to combat IUU fishing, specifically with regard to illegal driftnets. Fishermen are no longer able to carry ferrettara and longline gear on board at the same time, and new dimensions have been established for ferrettara gear, including limiting how far from the coast it can be used. Sanctions were also placed on vessels using illegal driftnets.
Panama was identified because several of its vessels violated the IATTC purse seine closure periods in 2009, and one vessel fished without being on the IATTC Regional Vessel Register. After NOAA’s identification and consultations, Panama sanctioned vessels with fines of 500,000 USD and collected payment. After leaving its vessel registry, Panama also recommended the vessel La Parrula be added to the IUU vessel lists of regional management fisheries organizations (RFMOs) to which Panama is a party.
Portugal was identified in 2011 because two of its vessels had fished in a manner that violated NAFO conservation and enforcement measures during 2010. After its identification and consultation with NOAA, the Government of Portugal took corrective action against the two vessels found to be using illegal fishing gear in 2010 in the NAFO Conservation Area, which included seizure of the illegal gear and fines placed on both the vessel owners and captains.
Venezuela was identified in 2011 because two of its vessels were alleged to be fishing in violation of IATTC conservation and management measures during 2009. After its identification and consultations, the Government of Venezuela took corrective action for the two vessels identified. Specifically in the case of the Don Francesco, Venezuela provided the following sanctions: a fine, suspension of fishing, and the requirement that the captains attend a training course.
2013 Report to Congress
NOAA identified ten nations as having engaged in IUU fishing: Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, Italy, Korea (Republic of), Mexico, Panama, Spain, Tanzania, and Venezuela. Mexico was additionally identified for bycatch of a shared PLMR without a regulatory program comparable in effectiveness to that of the United States. After notifying the ten nations of their identifications, the U.S. Government consulted extensively with them.
Outcomes Announced in 2015 Report
In its 2015 Report to Congress, NOAA positively certified that each of the ten nations took corrective action with respect to the offending IUU fishing activities, but delayed its certification decision for Mexico’s bycatch activities until it issued a negative certification in an addendum to the report later in 2015. This was followed by additional bycatch consultations with Mexico resulting in a positive certification in 2016.
Colombia was identified for having a number of vessels that violated IATTC resolutions in 2011. After its identification and consultation with NOAA, Colombia sanctioned the owners, commercial fishing license holders, and captains for shark finning. Additionally, Colombia opened preliminary investigations and conducted outreach efforts to fishermen and recreational boaters to educate them about the requirement for compliance with MARPOL Annex V.
Ecuador was identified because a number of Ecuadorian-flagged vessels violated IATTC resolutions in 2011 and 2012. After its identification and consultation with NOAA, Ecuador took action to sanction vessels charged with the IATTC violations. Ecuador also acted to address the situation in the short term by amending its regulations to implement IATTC resolutions. It then entered into an agreement with the IATTC Secretariat to expedite access to observer reports that identify possible violations.
Ghana was identified for failing to manage its fishing vessels consistent with measures adopted by ICCAT. After its identification and consultation with NOAA, Ghana instituted a general moratorium on flagging new vessels and conducted an audit of industrial and semi-industrial vessels in its fleet. It set a goal to de-list inactive vessels and revoked the fishing licenses of those not in compliance. By registering all canoes, Ghana will gain a rough estimate of their fishing efforts. Additionally, the two Ghanaian-flagged vessels that were at the center of the transshipment issues now have observers onboard. Ghana is working to monitor tuna off-loadings, develop methods to measure the volume of off-loadings, and will require the cooperation of tuna fishing vessels as a requirement of their license.
Italy was identified for several different violations of ICCAT requirements, including driftnet use, and in 2011 for additional driftnet fishing violations. On the basis of information provided on sanctions against illegal driftnet use and other actions taken to end this practice, NOAA determined that the Government of Italy has taken appropriate corrective action to address the IUU fishing activities for which it was identified in the 2013 Report to Congress.
The Republic of Korea was identified for failing to apply sufficient sanctions to deter its vessels from engaging in fishing activities that violate binding measures adopted by CCAMLR. After NOAA identification and consultation, Korea instituted new sanctions through amendments to its Distant Water Fisheries Development Act (DWFDA). Korea also ensured installation of a vessel monitoring system (VMS) on all of its distant water fishing vessels and opened its Fisheries Monitoring Center in 2014. Korea has actively educated its distant water fishing industry on IUU fishing and the new amendments to the DWFDA that are now in place. Korea is also engaging with West African States to encourage better monitoring and control of its fleet operating in West African waters. Korea has also finalized its National Plan of Action for IUU fishing, and has begun engaging more with the global fisheries community to address and solve issues with its distant water fleet.
Mexico was identified for IUU fishing based on the activities of several Mexican-flagged fishing vessels that violated IATTC resolutions in 2011 and 2012, and for bycatch of North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles. After NOAA identification and consultations, Mexico provided information on the actions taken to address IUU fishing activities. It sanctioned the Atún VII for shark finning, investigated the discarding of trash at sea, investigated the sea turtle release cases finding that the turtles were released unharmed, and determined that the tuna discards took place because the tuna were unfit for human consumption.
In August 2015, in an Addendum to the 2015 Biennial Report to Congress, NOAA issued a negative certification to Mexico for its sea turtle bycatch. While the government of Mexico had established a management plan to collect data to support stock assessment and conservation efforts, it had not adopted a regulatory program to end or reduce bycatch. NOAA subsequently issued a positive certification to Mexico in 2016 once it developed and adopted such measures.
Panama was identified because several Panamanian-flagged vessels violated IATTC resolutions in 2011 and/or 2012. After NOAA identification and consultations, Panama passed Executive Decree No. 160 of June 6, 2013, which set forth procedures to impose administrative sanctions for violations of the regulations on aquatic, coastal/marine, and fishery resources. A vessel desiring to change owners or cancel its registration must now pay any pending fines, or present a bond of $1 million. Before this decree came into force, vessels fined for violations could cancel their Panamanian registration and thereby avoid paying their fines. In addition, the Panamanian agencies have implemented inter-institutional cooperation and now exchange information on fishing vessels and national and international fishery inspections.
Spain was identified because two Spanish-flagged vessels engaged in fishing activities that violated CMMs required under an international fishery management agreement. One vessel violated NAFO conservation and enforcement measures; the other, an IATTC conservation and management recommendation. After NOAA identification and consultations, the Government of Spain took corrective action for the two vessels identified for IUU fishing in the 2013 Report. In the case of the Pescaberbes Dos, Spain imposed a 4,500€ sanction. Spain closed the investigation surrounding the Albacora Uno, concluding that there were insufficient grounds for a sanction. In addition, Spain agreed on the need to clarify the rules with regard to tuna discards.
Tanzania was identified because four of its vessels undermined the effectiveness of Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) conservation measures. After NOAA identification and consultations, Tanzania ensured the removal of the offending vessels from its registry, and is requiring future vessel registrations to be cross-checked for IUU fishing histories.
Venezuela was identified in the 2013 Report to Congress because a number of its fishing vessels violated IATTC resolutions in 2011. These violations include two vessels (the Ventuari and Cayude) that finned sharks and discarded the carcasses at sea. After NOAA identification and consultations, the government of Venezuela passed a resolution governing the capture, exchange, distribution, commerce, and transport of sharks. It issued warnings for discarding trash or plastic at sea and investigated two sea turtle release cases. Additionally, the government required training seminars be attended by each of its captains, shipmasters, and ship personnel who were on vessels with violations of IATTC conservation and management measures, including for discards of tuna.
2015 Report to Congress
In its 2015 report, six nations were identified -- Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Portugal – for IUU fishing activities.
Outcomes Announced in 2017 Report
Colombia was identified for having four vessels that violated IATTC resolutions in 2013 or 2014. After NOAA identification and consultations, on October 8, 2015, Colombia issued a data buoy regulation, Resolución 1806. It prohibits scientific data buoy interactions by any Colombian-flagged vessel, regardless of where they operate; or by foreign-flagged vessels linked to Colombian companies fishing in Colombian territorial waters. The measure obligates vessels and crew to take all reasonable measures to avoid contact and interaction with data buoys anchored or floating during any type of fishing activity. The regulation also stipulates that noncompliance with the obligations will result in sanctions pursuant to Law 13 of 1990 (General Fishing Statute) and Decree 1071 of 2015.
Ecuador was identified for having a number of Ecuadorian-flagged vessels that violated IATTC resolutions in 2013 or 2014. NOAA was also concerned that Ecuadorian law, which was understood to require that an action be brought no later than 60 days from the date of notification of a violation, prevented the effective enforcement of domestic laws implementing RFMO measures. After NOAA identification and consultations, Ecuador made procedural changes to its fisheries legislation to allow a full year for completion of a case. NOAA has seen this result in cases Ecuador has prosecuted. In addition, Ecuador has resolved the cases for the Mariella and El Conde for interactions with data buoys and supplied documentation of the monetary sanctions placed on the vessels, along with a fishing suspension for the Mariella.
Nicaragua was identified for having four vessels that violated IATTC conservation measures in 2013. Nicaragua pursued sanctions and/or fines against the vessels. On the basis of information provided, NOAA determined that the Government of Nicaragua has taken appropriate corrective action to address the IUU fishing activities for which it was identified in the 2015 Report to Congress.
Nigeria was identified because at least two of its vessels undermined the effectiveness of CCAMLR conservation measures in 2013 and 2014. Through the U.S. Consulate in Lagos, NOAA learned that the latter agency has instituted a policy, implementing a 2007 statute, to de-register any vessel found to be conducting illegal fishing operations worldwide. The agency does not, however, have legal authority to pursue illegal fishing activities unless there is a clear violation of the vessel’s registration.
Portugal was identified for having three vessels that violated NAFO conservation measures in 2013 and 2014. Portugal pursued sanctions and/or fines against the vessels. On the basis of information provided, NOAA determined that the Government of Portugal has taken appropriate corrective action to address the IUU fishing activities for which it was identified in the 2015 Report to Congress.
Mexico was identified for having vessels fishing without authorization in U.S. waters, and for overfishing of stocks shared with the United States, in areas without applicable international measures or management organizations, that has adverse impacts on such stocks. After NOAA identification and consultations, Mexico took several actions to address the lancha incursions, including increasing surveillance patrols, curtailing engine subsidies, and initiating enforcement cases against those individuals involved in the lancha operations, however those cases have not yet been resolved. Mexico, therefore, was negatively certified and port restrictions were put in place.
In April 2018, an Addendum to the 2017 Biennial Report to Congress was issued. Based on Mexico’s prosecution of individuals and fishing cooperatives associated with unauthorized fishing in the U.S. EEZ and adoption of additional actions to address these incursions, NOAA later issued a positive certification decision to Mexico. However, as Mexico was also identified for additional cases of IUU fishing in the 2017 report, failure to sustain its efforts to combat IUU fishing could result in another negative certification in future reports to Congress.
2017 Report to Congress
In its 2017 report, NOAA identified – Ecuador, Mexico and Russian Federation for IUU fishing activities. NOAA then consulted extensively with those governments, through face-to-face meetings, teleconferences, and correspondence.
Outcomes Announced in 2019 Report
In its 2019 Report to Congress, NOAA positively certified that each of the three nations took corrective action with respect to the offending activities:
Ecuador was identified for having 25 vessels with violations of IATTC resolutions in 2014, 2015, and 2016. After NOAA identification and consultations, Ecuador opened administrative investigations for all the cases that formed the bases for its identification. The Government of Ecuador concluded that all but one case warranted punitive actions. Ecuador imposed monetary sanctions in those cases that warranted punitive action and provided the United States with documentation of these sanctions.
Mexico was identified for having vessels fishing without authorization in U.S. waters, and for overfishing of a stock (red snapper) shared by the United States in areas without applicable international measures or management organizations, which has adverse impacts on such stocks. After consultations, Mexico reported it installed satellite monitoring devices on vessels sailing out of the ports of Bagdad Beach, Matamoros, and Tamaulipas beginning in 2017. In an effort to strengthen enforcement, Mexican officials report that they have installed microchips that capture radio frequency to better track small vessels. They can specifically locate where these vessels are landing and to better distinguish between the registered fishing fleet and those conducting illegal activities. They indicate that in 2018 they conducted preventive and corrective maintenance on the satellite monitoring system as a means to optimize transmission. They have identified base ports and set up a registry for vessels and crew. Mexico continues to cancel engine and gas subsidies to fishermen and cooperatives associated with lancha incursions. Mexico also continues to bring charges against lancha vessel crews and owners, including fishing cooperatives, under its General Law of Sustainable Fishing and Aquaculture, which states that it is an infraction to conduct fishing on the high seas and in waters under foreign jurisdiction without a permit.
Russian Federation was identified because CCAMLR records indicate that Russian-flagged vessels violated CCAMLR conservation measures in 2014, 2015, and 2016. In addition, the United States documented a Russian-flagged vessel fishing in U.S. waters without authorization in 2014. After consultations, the Russian Federation investigated the alleged infractions by its two vessels regarding infractions of CCAMLR measures and suspended one vessel from fishing in the CCAMLR regulatory area. The Russian Federation implemented what the CCAMLR compliance process recommended for the second vessel identified. The third vessel identified in the 2017 Report was investigated by Russian authorities in Rosrybolovstvo, for having allegedly fished illegally in the U.S. EEZ. After investigation, the Russian Federation concluded the vessel was not fishing within the U.S. EEZ and that no IUU fishing took place.
2019 Report to Congress
Mexico and Ecuador were again identified; and the Republic of Korea was identified for reported IUU fishing activities.
Outcomes Announced in 2021 Report to Congress
In its 2021 Report to Congress, NOAA positively certified that two of the three nations took corrective action with respect to the offending activities: Ecuador and the Republic of Korea.
NOAA has a long relationship working with Ecuador under the Moratorium Protection Act.
In 2016 and 2017, Ecuador failed to investigate numerous alleged violations of IATTC resolutions by its flagged vessels. NOAA noted particular concern about allegations of noncompliance by the purse-seine fleet, which comprises approximately 40 percent of the purse-seine vessels authorized to fish for tunas in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Concerns also surrounded the recurrent vessel-specific issues that had been the basis for Ecuador’s repeated identifications for IUU fishing in the 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019 Reports to Congress.
Under the Act, Ecuador has made significant progress in fisheries management since its identification, including:
- Demonstrated increased and improved participation in the IATTC Compliance Committee process
- Passage of the Organic Administrative Code in 2017, which now provides its fisheries agency with five years from the date of the infraction to open an administrative case - consistent with the U.S. statute of limitations for administrative enforcement cases
- Passage of the Organic Law for the Development of Aquaculture and Fisheries in April 2020, Ecuador updated its fisheries management law, which includes provisions for stricter fines and sanctions, enhanced MCS measures, at-sea and port inspections, and enhanced cooperation with RFMOs
NOAA will continue to track Ecuador’s progress in implementing these new regulations and their effectiveness in formalizing and strengthening Ecuador’s participation in the IATTC compliance process and its fisheries management. Following repeated identifications since 2011, Ecuador was most recently issued a positive certification in the 2021 Report to Congress.
Mexico was negatively certified in 2021 for failure to address IUU fishing by lanchas in U.S. waters. Following Mexico’s negative certification, the United States has restricted access to U.S. ports for vessels fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
2021 Report to Congress
NOAA identified 31 nations and entities in the 2021 report to Congress: seven nations and entities for having vessels engaged in IUU fishing activities, and 29 nations for bycatch of protected species in the absence of measures that are comparable to those of the United States. Some nations and entities were identified for both IUU fishing and bycatch.
NOAA identified China, Costa Rica, Guyana, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Senegal, and Taiwan for having vessels engaged in IUU fishing activities during 2018–2020.
NOAA identified 29 nations and entities that lack a regulatory program comparable in effectiveness to the United States to reduce the bycatch of protected marine life in their fishing operations. These include: Algeria, Barbados, China, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, European Union, France, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Senegal, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and Turkey.
Costa Rica, Guyana, Senegal, and Taiwan received positive certification determinations for taking actions to remedy the IUU fishing activities identified in the 2021 Report.
Mexico, the People's Republic of China, and the Russian Federation received negative certifications for failing to take actions to remedy their reported activities.
Croatia, Egypt, European Union, Grenada, Guyana, Japan, Mauritania, Morocco, the People’s Republic of China, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, and Taiwan received positive certifications for taking corrective actions to address their protected marine life bycatch activities identified in the 2021 Report.
Algeria, Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Namibia, Senegal, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, and Turkey received negative certifications for not having a regulatory program comparable to that of the United States to reduce bycatch of sea turtles in pelagic longline fisheries in the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas waters beyond any national jurisdiction.
Additionally, Mexico has been negatively certified for its lack of a comparable regulatory program to reduce or minimize bycatch of endangered North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles.
2023 Report to Congress
Angola, Grenada, Mexico, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, The Gambia, and Vanuatu were identified for reported IUU fishing activities.
Results of NOAA’s consultations with these nations and entities will be announced in NOAA’s 2025 Report to Congress on Improving International Fisheries Management.