NOAA has proposed new measures to enhance and strengthen our fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The changes address two key tools: the U.S. Moratorium Protection Act and the international Port States Measures Agreement. The measures, announced in a proposed rule (pdf, 84 pgs), would enhance NOAA’s abilities to combat IUU fishing activities and counter forced labor in the seafood supply chain. The agency will seek public comment on the rule once it’s published.
IUU fishing threatens economic security and natural resources critical to global food security, and puts law-abiding fishermen and seafood producers in the United States and abroad at a disadvantage. IUU fishing describes a wide variety of fishing-related activities that may violate national and international fishing regulations. It can occur at several points along the global seafood supply chain, from the original catch or harvest overseas to the high seas (areas beyond national jurisdiction), to hundreds of fishing ports across the globe. Since IUU fishing activities are broad and complex, we must use a wide range of tools to combat them.
Identification of Nations and Entities for IUU Fishing
The proposed rule would strengthen NOAA’s ability to address IUU fishing activities when implementing the U.S. Moratorium Protection Act. The Act is a key engagement tool NOAA uses to identify, consult with, and certify nations and entities whose fishing vessels are engaged in IUU fishing, bycatch of protected marine life, or shark catch on the high seas.
“The Moratorium Protection Act is one of the United States’ most effective and impactful tools to combat IUU fishing activities,” said Alexa Cole, Director of NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs, Trade, and Commerce. “It has resulted in many successes with identified nations strengthening their national fisheries laws, taking flag state action against their vessels, improving their engagement in regional fisheries management organizations’ compliance processes, and improving their monitoring, control, and surveillance efforts on a global scale. The proposed change to the definition of IUU fishing when implementing this Act will widen the scope of activities we can consider and provide us with the authority to address additional issues.”
Specifically, the rule proposes to broaden the scope of activities that NOAA can consider when identifying nations for IUU fishing to include:
- Fishing in waters under the jurisdiction of a nation, without the permission of that nation, or in violation of its laws and regulations
- Fishing activities in waters beyond any national jurisdiction that involve the use of forced labor
Currently, the triggers for identifying a nation for actions of its vessels associated with IUU fishing under the Act are based on undermining or violating measures of international fishery management organizations, or fishing in areas, or on fish stocks, for which there are no applicable conservation or management measures.
In addition to the existing triggers, the proposed rule would allow the United States to identify any nation under the Act for a failure to exercise effective flag state control. Such a failure would be evidenced by persistent and pervasive fishing activities by the nation’s vessels, in waters under another nation’s jurisdiction, without the authorization of that nation or otherwise in violation of that nation’s laws.
There is also a growing body of evidence documenting severe labor abuses on board fishing vessels. Fisheries frequently recruit migrant workers who are more vulnerable to exploitation. Specifically, such abuses and exploitation are known to occur in conjunction with the more egregious IUU fishing cases.
The United States strongly condemns labor abuses of any kind throughout the seafood supply chain. We support the need for decent work conditions within the fishing industry, including for observers and vessel crew. In December 2020, NOAA and the Department of State published the “Human Trafficking in the Seafood Supply Chain” Report to Congress. It listed 29 nations most at risk for human trafficking in their seafood supply chain.
NOAA and the Department of Labor co-chair the U.S Interagency Working Group on IUU fishing’s sub-working group on countering forced labor in the seafood supply chain. This group brings attention to the critical role of, and risks faced by, workers throughout the seafood supply chain.
NOAA is committed to addressing this issue and ensuring that products produced with forced labor do not enter U.S. markets. We, therefore, propose the addition of “forced labor” to the scope of activities subject to identification when implementing the Act.
Port State Measures Agreement
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Agreement on Port State Measures is an internationally binding agreement. Its purpose is to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU fishing through the implementation of minimum standards for effective port state measures. With 70 parties, including the United States, it creates one of the largest global nation networks of port enforcement against IUU fishing activities.
“The Port State Measures Agreement is a key enforcement tool which enables nations, like the United States, to assess the risk that an incoming vessel may be engaged in illegal fishing activities, and decide whether to let it enter to unload catch or receive port services,” said James Landon, Director of NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement. “By expanding the set of information foreign fishing vessels must submit when requesting entry into U.S. ports, the proposed change will further strengthen and harmonize port controls for foreign-flagged vessels, and as a result, help keep IUU fish and fish products out of the world’s markets.”
Specifically, the rule:
- Outlines the procedures to designate and publicize the ports to which foreign fishing vessels may seek entry and procedures for conducting inspections of these foreign vessels accessing U.S. ports
- Establishes expanded information submission requirements for foreign fishing vessels and foreign vessels engaged in fishing-related activities requesting entry into U.S. ports, and defines criteria under which port entry and access to port services are authorized or denied, and the notification procedures for communicating such authorizations or denials
NOAA is the primary agency for its implementation, in coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard, and conducts all Port State Measures Agreement inspections for the United States. We screen foreign-flagged fishing or fishing-related vessels to determine if they are on an IUU vessel list or under suspicion of IUU fishing prior to their authorization to enter port.
NOAA is committed to enhancing and strengthening the suite of tools it uses to combat IUU fishing and the use of forced labor in the seafood supply chain and working with other agencies and nations in addressing these problems.
Alexa Cole, Director, NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs, Trade, and Commerce
James Landon, Director, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement