For decades, national governments, international agencies, marine conservation organizations and legal fishers have sought ways to reduce the amount and impact of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU), aka pirate, fishing on fish populations, national economies and law-abiding fishermen around the world, with limited success. IUU fishing decimates fish populations around the world, damages national economies, threatens the livelihoods of law-abiding fishermen in the US and elsewhere and contributes to food scarcity and hunger in some developing countries. It also threatens sensitive ocean habitats such as seamounts and coral reefs among many others, even those reserved in marine protected areas. In addition, as the world’s second largest importer of fish, the US likely imports around $2 billion annually of IUU fish which is around 20% of our imports of wild caught seafood because of poor record keeping in the supply food chain from boat to markets. Pirate fishing hurts US fishermen by lowering prices for domestic seafood and displacing product in the marketplace. Our calculations show that it contributes to the loss of 56,000 jobs in US fishing and processing alone, not counting the indirect economic impacts on fishing communities.1
Marine Conservation Institute’s policy experts worked for years with members of Congress and fishermen’s organizations to pass legislation combating pirate fishing. Finally, in October 2015, we were successful and Congress passed legislation (S. 774) which implemented a strong international agreement –the Port States Measures Agreement- that gives nations additional tools to turn away international shipments of pirate seafood. This will remove some incentives for IUU fishermen because they won’t be able to land their products in participating countries.
After the US passed its implementing legislation, another dozen or more countries jumped onboard and the Port States Measures Agreement officially went into effect with 30 countries in early June 2016. While there is much more to be done in the fight against pirate fishing: better enforcement on the high seas, more countries signing onto the agreement, better seafood traceability rules in the US and more money for enforcement, we are making good progress on eliminating IUU. A strong international framework has finally been established. Now it’s time to push for an end to IUU fishing everywhere. Marine Conservation Institute intends to stick with this effort until the US and partners make tangible progress against this international crime against marine wildlife and people.