Washington — The United States is working with officials in 10 nations to address illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in 2011 or 2012, or that had ineffective measures to prevent the unintended catch of protected species in 2012.
The U.S. Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says IUU fishing undermines international efforts to sustainably manage and rebuild fisheries and creates unfair market competition for fishermen who adhere to strict conservation measures.
IUU fishing can devastate fish populations and their productive marine habitats, NOAA said, threatening food security and economic stability. Independent experts have estimated economic losses worldwide from stealing fish from legitimate fishing operations to be between $10 billion and $23 billion annually, the agency said.
NOAA on January 11 submitted a congressionally mandated report listing the 10 nations.
The United States soon will start consultations with Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, Italy, Mexico, Panama, South Korea, Spain, Tanzania and Venezuela - to encourage them to take action to address IUU fishing and bycatch by their fishermen.
The nations identified in the report had vessels that did not comply in 2011 or 2012 with conservation and management measures required under a regional fishery management organization to which the United States is a party. Mexico also was identified for ineffective management of the bycatch of North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles, which travel between Japan and Mexico through Hawaiian waters and are endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
"As one of the largest importers of seafood in the world, the United States has a global responsibility and an economic duty to ensure the fish we import is caught sustainably and legally," said Sam Rauch, deputy assistant administrator for NOAA's Fisheries Service. "We look forward to working with these nations to encourage their compliance, and we will continue to work with our partners to detect and combat illegal practices."
All six nations identified in the previous 2011 report to Congress (Colombia, Ecuador, Italy, Panama, Portugal and Venezuela) have addressed the instances by taking strong actions like sanctioning vessels, adopting or amending laws and regulations, or improving monitoring and enforcement, NOAA said.
Each of these nations now has a positive certification for their 2011 activities. However, a nation positively certified for action taken since the last report may be listed again as engaged in IUU fishing if new issues are identified, as is the case in this report, the agency said.
If a nation fails to take appropriate action to address the instances of illegal fishing or bycatch activities described in the report, that nation's fishing vessels may be denied entry into U.S. ports and imports of certain fish or fish products from that nation into the United States may be prohibited.
The United States is second only to China in the amount of seafood it imports. NOAA's latest figures showed that 91 percent of the 2 billion kilograms of seafood consumed in the United States in 2011 was imported.
The NOAA 2012 report is a requirement of the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act, as amended by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act and the Shark Conservation Act.
The report is prepared by the NOAA Fisheries' Office of International Affairs, which works with the nations identified to resolve IUU issues. In addition, NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement works with foreign law enforcement and fisheries officials to investigate illegal trafficking, illegal imports and IUU fishing, and it routinely partners with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard. NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement and the Coast Guard also work together to ensure that U.S.-flagged vessels are complying with the law.
NOAA, whose mission is understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment and to conserve and manage coastal and marine resources, also issued final regulations January 11 to implement the international provisions of the Shark Conservation Act.
These regulations specify the procedures for identifying and certifying nations whose vessels catch sharks on the high seas. They also amend the definition of IUU fishing to help ensure a comprehensive approach to addressing unsustainable fisheries activities of greatest concern to the United States.
The 2012 IUU report (PDF, 1.4MB) is available on NOAA's website.