I have truly historic news to share with you. Today, in a video message shared at Secretary of State John Kerry’s “Our Ocean” conference, President Obama announced his plan to develop a comprehensive program aimed at combating seafood fraud and keeping illegal fish out of the U.S. market.
Today the U.S. Congress took one step closer to passing legislation to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated international fishing, or “pirate fishing.” The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation reported out two bills, the International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act (S.269) and the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act (S.267), which would put in place important measures to prevent, deter, and eliminate pirate fishing around the world. The two bills, which were introduced in the last Congress by the late Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, received sweeping bipartisan support. Following today’s success in the Senate committee, the bills will head to the Senate floor for final passage.
Last week, a U.S. federal court struck a blow against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing operations when it ordered three men to pay $22.5 million in restitution for smuggling sea bass and rock lobster from South Africa, which is the largest monetary penalty ever given for this type of illegal activity.
Following Oceana’s newly released report on the harmful impacts of illegal fishing, one of the questions that I as Oceana's Northeast representative was asked most often was, “Where is this happening?” The short answer: Illegal fishing happens everywhere, from the most distant waters near Antarctica to just off the U.S. coast.
Editor's note: This is a guest post by Simone Lewis-Koskinen, Program Assistant at SeaWeb, reporting from the Seafood Summit in Hong Kong. Oceana is a sponsor of the summit.
After many months and several thousand emails, phone calls and meetings, the Seafood Summit has arrived! SeaWeb’s 10th Annual Seafood Summit in Hong Kong, kicked off this Wednesday with a series of pre-Summit activities exploring the existing and future horizons of the eco-certification landscape, investment mechanisms for fisheries and local seafood markets. Despite the jet lag, most of the participants were in high spirits and eager to mingle, setting the tone for what’s sure to be the best Summit yet.
The following three days will see a flurry of panels, workshops and meetings that get at the heart of some of the most pressing issues facing the seafood industry. From climate change to Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, the topics run the gamut, promising a healthy dose of debate and discussion.
Panels addressing tuna and shark issues are particularly likely to spark some heated debates given the cultural and traditional ties to the region. From Friday’s panel discussion on local trends around shark fins and consumer attitudes, to Saturday’s workshop on sustainable shark fisheries, Hong Kong is shaping up to be the perfect place to elevate these dialogues to the next level.
Other sessions likely to provide some interesting food for thought examine the relationship between seafood and the consumer, exploring the various avenues to engage consumers in the discussion. As the Holy Grail for many conservation groups, sessions sharing tools and lessons learned around translating consumer awareness into behavior change are sure to spark a lot of interest.
The Seafood Summit is an annual event hosted by SeaWeb that brings together global representatives from the seafood industry and conservation community for in-depth discussions, presentations and networking around the issue of sustainable seafood. The goal of the Summit is to foster dialogue and partnerships that lead to a seafood marketplace that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. The breadth and depth of topics, discussions and perspectives serves as a catalyst for new solutions as one of the premiere events in the seafood community.
Looking back at past Summits, this year’s event represents the first steps into new territory. Traditionally held in Europe and North America, bringing the Seafood Summit to Hong Kong is an important step for helping the sustainable seafood movement engage more effectively with the Asian marketplace. Many of the presentations so far have acknowledged the growing role Asia has and will continue to play in the path towards sustainability. In the days, months and years to come, this initial foray will surely be remembered as setting the stage for many of the lasting relationships formed at the 2012 Seafood Summit.
The Senate took an important step forward last month in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, also known as pirate fishing, by passing the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act (S. 1980) through the Commerce Committee.
The bill implements the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (Agreement), which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) adopted in November 2009 and, if ratified, would be the first binding international agreement to specifically combat illegal fishing. The bipartisan bill easily passed the committee and now moves to the Senate floor for consideration.
Pirate fishing is a serious problem that threatens the oceans, honest fishermen and seafood consumers alike. Pirate fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching threatened or endangered species. Because this fishing goes unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess its true impact on our oceans.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that pirate fishing leads to global economic losses between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for up to 40 percent of the catch in certain fisheries. One of the easiest ways to address this problem is to close our ports to illegal fishing vessels and help ensure that illegal fish are kept out of our markets.
The bill would accomplish these goals by establishing specific requirements for port entry. In particular, it specifies minimum standards for dockside inspections, requires that nations designate specific ports to which foreign vessels may seek entry and requires that nations share information about violators. If any vessel is known to have or is suspected of pirate fishing, a nation must deny that vessel port entry. The bill also expressly makes the mislabeling and misidentification of fish or fish products illegal.
S. 1980 is a good first step toward addressing illegal fishing, and Oceana commends the Senate Commerce Committee for moving it forward. While Congress is now in recess until September, we hope that both the House and Senate will use the short legislative session in the fall to move this important bill to finally give the U.S. the tools it needs to fight pirate fishing and ensure that illegally-caught fish do not enter our market.
In a hearing yesterday in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs, administration officials and fishing industry representatives expressed support for a bill that would strengthen the U.S.’s ability to address the growing global problem of illegal fishing.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing – also known as pirate fishing – is a serious problem that threatens the oceans, honest fishermen, and seafood consumers alike. With bipartisan support led by sponsors Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) and Congressman Frank Guinta (R, NH-1), the bill demonstrates that pirate fishing is an issue not defined by state or by party. It is encouraging to see Congress get serious about addressing this challenge.
The legislation, the “Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act” (H.R. 4100), would provide the U.S. with critical tools to better monitor and track pirate fishing vessels, enforce penalties against those vessels, help prevent illegal product from entering the U.S. market, and protect endangered or threatened species from further depletion. The bill is the companion to S. 52 in the Senate, which was introduced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last May.
“Fishing communities are the lifeblood of Guam, [the Northern Mariana Islands] and other islands in the Pacific… so protecting our fishermen from illegal fishing enhances economic opportunities and protects cultural and natural resources that our communities rely upon,” said Congresswoman Bordallo. “My bill increases capacity for inspection, identification and monitoring of illegal foreign vessels, amends several international agreements to incorporate civil and criminal penalties, and also broadens data-sharing authority with foreign governments in order to identify and penalize nations that do not comply with fisheries management regulations.”
Pirate fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching threatened or endangered species. Because this fishing goes unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess its true impact on our oceans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that pirate fishing leads to global economic losses between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for up to 40% of the catch in certain fisheries.
Rumor has it that the Senate is looking to act on its bill, S. 52, before the end of the year. We hope the House will move H.R. 4100 to the floor soon as well. Last fall, the Obama Administration announced that it was stepping up efforts to crack down on pirate fishing by entering into a joint agreement with the European Union to coordinate efforts. Yet the U.S. currently lacks the necessary enforcement measures to give the agreement teeth. This legislation would provide the U.S. with these tools, strengthening existing fisheries laws and adding new provisions to deter illicit activities.
We commend the House Natural Resources Committee for holding this hearing and putting the spotlight on this issue, and hope that the Committee will take up the bill soon for a vote. This legislation takes an important step forward in the effort to protect our oceans from overexploitation, ensure that law-abiding fishermen compete on a level playing field, and protect consumers who want to make responsible choices when buying seafood.
Editor's note: This is part 2 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
One of the biggest challenges facing sustainable fishing in the Philippines is the prevalence of dynamite fishing, where fishers create an improvised bomb out of a rum or Coke bottle and ammonium sulfate. The sound wave created by the explosion stuns the fish, which float to the surface, but it also destroys corals and seagrass meadows that can take years to recover from a single blast.
Dynamite fishing has been a problem in Cortes, a town on the southern half of Lanuza Bay. There’s a lot of pressure to fish here no matter the cost, because the area produces no other local meat or fruit – everything except some coconuts is sold at the market in Tandag, a half-hour drive to the south. As a result, 80 percent of the residents are fishers, and much of the fish they catch is used to feed their families.
This makes Cortes a perfect location for a Rare campaign, and the mayor, Pedro Trinidad Jr., is an enthusiastic participant. Along with Rare conservation fellow Vincent Duenas, the mayor has upped enforcement of the local MPA – one of Cortes’ eight MPAs – with 24/7 volunteer guards. The mayor has even gotten approval to start a landmark program that would require families on welfare assistance to volunteer for shifts in the guardhouse, the first program of its kind in the country.
Vince’s work to educate the town about dynamite and illegal fishing has been so successful that fishermen who were part of the problem have now come around. “Illegal fishermen are now stewards of the sea,” the mayor said as we met over lunch. “Those who were dynamiting the fish are now guarding the MPA.”
Later, we went to visit the guardhouse in Uba, a tiny town of 150 fishing families a short drive from Cortes. Vince’s campaign mascot, a friendly oversize rabbitfish named Rabita, made an appearance – swarmed by children – and we met with a dozen fishers and their wives and daughters in the guardhouse, located on a rocky outcropping just outside town.
Congress took a strong step forward today in the fight against illegal fishing, as Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) introduced legislation to fight this growing global problem that threatens our oceans, honest fishermen and seafood consumers worldwide.
The bill is cosponsored by Representatives Frank Guinta (R, NH-01), Sam Farr (D, CA-17), Gregorio Kilili Sablan (D-MP), Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS), and Donna Christensen (D-VI).
The legislation, titled the “Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act,” would provide the U.S. with critical tools to better monitor and track pirate fishing vessels, enforce penalties against those vessels, help prevent illegal product from entering the U.S. market, and protect endangered or threatened species from further depletion. The bill is the companion to S. 52 in the Senate, which was introduced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last May.
Illegal, or pirate, fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching species that may be threatened or endangered. Because this fishing is unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess the true impact on our oceans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates, however, that pirate fishing results in global economic losses of between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for as much as 40% of the catch in certain fisheries.
Just a few weeks after we celebrated a soaring victory for sharks on the U.S. West Coast, Colombian authorities have reported that as many as 2,000 hammerhead, Galápagos and silky sharks may have been slaughtered in Colombia's Pacific waters.
According to the Colombian president’s top environmental adviser, divers saw 10 Costa Rican trawlers illegally entering the Malpelo wildlife sanctuary. When the divers swam down to the ocean floor, they found a shocking amount of sharks without their fins.
The Malpelo sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage site, provides an ideal habitat for threatened sharks. Unfortunately, the high concentration of sharks in the sanctuary draws illegal fishing boats from nearby nations.
It’s sad day for sharks, but we'll continue working to stop illegal fishing and shark finning. You can help by supporting our campaign to protect our ocean’s top predators from extinction.