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Illegal Seafood Trafficking A Growing Threat

Migrant workers separate freshly caught fish by size at a fish market in Samut Sakhon Province, west of Bangkok, June 20, 2014.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a major environmental problem and an economic challenge.

The world’s fisheries are a natural resource that provides employment for over 50 million people and food for billions. Despite the resource’s great importance, though, its health and sustainability are increasingly under threat. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a major environmental problem and an economic challenge.

The United States is committed to improving fisheries management, protecting the oceans and safeguarding this marine bounty for generations to come. Toward this end, a special presidentially appointed task force on December 16 released recommendations for a framework for our nation to follow to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud. The goal is a more systematic, coordinated domestic approach and greater U.S. leadership internationally on these issues.

The recommendations would apply equally to U.S. and foreign seafood. One focuses on our government engaging with international partners to strengthen fisheries management and enforcement around the globe. One important step is convincing more nations to join into the Port State Measures Agreement, a binding global instrument to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Another calls for a program to trace the sources of seafood brought to market.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a fisheries regulator, U.S. fishermen last year landed 9.9 billion pounds of fish and shellfish worth $5.5 billion. Globally, annual losses attributable to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing have been estimated at $10-$23 billion. These practices fuel trafficking operations while undermining economic opportunities for fishermen and seafood companies engaged in legal fishing. Vessels fishing in restricted waters or exceeding their limits gain an unfair advantage over law-abiding fishing operations. For example, some pay no licensing fees, denying governments needed revenues for protecting their resources.

After a review period for public comment on implementation of the recommendations, the task force will develop an action plan. The United States will continue to work with partners around the world to promote the proper management of marine resources for the benefit of future generations.