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On The Road To Ending Illegal Fishing

How can you tell the difference between a fish caught illegally versus legally when at the supermarket or selecting your dinner at a restaurant? You can’t.

The US imports approximately $2 billion a year in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) seafood, currently indistinguishable from its legal counterpart. These imports perpetuate overfishing and destructive practices around the world, and damage the livelihoods of law abiding US fishermen. IUU imports undercut prices for US caught seafood and unfairly compete with seafood caught by US fishermen who have to live by the stringent requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act.

But President Obama recently took the next step to address IUU fishing by signing the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), an instrument that commits the United States to work with other nations to prevent illegally caught fish from entering worldwide markets by decreasing the number of ports where illegal fishing products can be unloaded, making it difficult for illegal fishers to do business.

The Port States Measures Agreement gives US personnel additional tools to stop ships carrying IUU fish from landing the products. When 25 countries have signed (20 have at present) the treaty will go into effect for all the signers. Depending on which countries sign the treaty, large markets will close to IUU seafood, severely reducing the economic incentive to fish illegally. The legislation also strengthens and streamlines the enforcement of several important international fishing agreements.

The team at Marine Conservation Institute, having worked with Congressional ocean champions for many years to pass IUU legislation and this subsequent international treaty, is thrilled by US progress as treaty implementation sends a powerful message to other countries that the US, the second largest importer of seafood in the world, wants to lead on this issue.


Cover photo via NOAA Fisheries Image Gallery, Illegal Fishing Vessels