The Beacon: Beckie Zisser's blog
Congress Advances Legislation to Fight Pirate Fishing, Keep Illegally-Caught Seafood Out of U.S. Market
The House Natural Resources Committee took a significant step forward yesterday in the fight against illegal fishing and seafood fraud, passing the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Enforcement Act (H.R. 69) by unanimous consent. It’s now headed to the House floor.
Last week was big for our oceans. Following a two-day summit at the State Department that brought together world leaders, NGO representatives, marine scientists, and other stakeholders to address key ocean issues, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry announced important new initiatives to protect our oceans from a number of serious threats. In particular, he announced a new effort to fight seafood fraud and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing that will include establishing full-chain traceability for seafood sold in the U.S.
Responsible fisheries management took a hit today as the House Committee on Natural Resources passed a bill that threatens to undo the significant progress the United States has made in reversing the effects of decades of overfishing and making the U.S. a world leader in fisheries management. H.R. 4742, sponsored by committee chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), would reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), our nation’s primary fisheries management law.
Oceana would like to thank Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) for becoming the new House lead sponsor of the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act, a bill that would require full traceability throughout the U.S. seafood supply chain, giving consumers access to more information about where their seafood comes from and helping to keep illegally-caught fish out of our markets.
As Congress returned this week from its month-long recess, the House of Representatives wasted no time in criticizing important conservation provisions of our nation’s foremost fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). In a hearing on Wednesday before the Natural Resources Committee, many participants—including fisheries scientists, fishery managers, and representatives of the seafood industry—made the case for revising the rules for how fish stocks are rebuilt under the MSA despite the law’s robust record of success in bringing vulnerable fish populations back from the brink of collapse.
The Massachusetts Legislature is currently considering three bills relating to seafood mislabeling, following in the footsteps of Washington state, which just last month enacted its own legislation on seafood mislabeling. I traveled to Boston earlier this week to testify before the Joint Committee on Public Health in support of these bills, which are important for giving consumers fuller and more accurate information about the seafood they buy.
Congress has finally passed a long-awaited supplemental appropriations bill to bring relief to those affected by Superstorm Sandy and to promote better preparedness for future disasters.
On top of the $9 billion agreed to in early January for direct flood insurance claims, the supplemental provides $50 billion for community rebuilding and future storm readiness, as well as a small amount in fisheries disaster relief. Despite a push from coastal Members to increase the fisheries funding, the final bill included only $5 million for communities affected by Sandy-related fisheries disasters—a far cry from the $150 million that the Senate originally approved in November.
Monday’s passage wraps up a months-long fight between the Senate and House largely over the bill’s price tag. The original Senate-approved bill totaled $64 billion, including funding for flood insurance, rebuilding, and the fisheries disaster relief, among other things.
The bill also stipulated that the $150 million in fisheries relief would be available for all fisheries disasters that the Commerce Secretary officially declared in 2012, not just those related to Sandy. These included the Northeast groundfish, Alaska pollock, and Mississippi oyster fisheries, each of which suffered from other natural disasters in 2012. The House balked at including non-Sandy-related relief, along with the overall cost, and ultimately punted the bill to the new Congress.
When the new Congress took up the bill on January 3, the fisheries disaster funding quickly became a target for elimination. Rep. Randy Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) proposed limiting the fisheries aid to $5 million, sparking outrage from colleagues who represent fishing communities along the Atlantic coast. Reps. Edward Markey (D-MA), John Tierney (D-MA), and others attempted to restore the fisheries aid to the Senate-passed level, but House Republicans opposed their efforts. In the end, the House agreed only to the $5 million, leaving it up to the Senate to decide whether to fight for additional funds. And despite opposition from a number of coastal Senators, the Senate agreed to the House-passed bill—including the $5 million in fisheries aid—in order to finalize the package and get the long-awaited relief to those in need.
Oceana supported this fishery disaster funding to support struggling fishing communities and to help coastal communities rebuild, provided that the funds do not facilitate activities that jeopardize ocean health. According to federal guidelines, fishery disaster funds can be used to repair or restore fishing equipment and infrastructure, compensate for losses, restore fisheries habitat, support workforce education, provide low-interest loans, and conduct monitoring and cooperative research focused on improving stock assessments. They cannot be used to support activities that would jeopardize the health of the fisheries.
Now that the dust has settled from the national elections, many of us in the fisheries world are turning our attention to the new session of Congress and what it means for the issues we care about.
Ocean issues rarely occupy a spot in the national conversation, and this year was no different. And given that the party makeup of both the House and Senate remains largely unchanged, we can expect much of the same posturing and gridlock we have seen in recent years.
Nevertheless, there are a few personnel changes – and the potential reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the law that governs our nation’s fisheries policy – that will have some consequence on these issues, for better or worse.
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.
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