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.
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.
Today, the U.S. and E.U. signed a historic agreement to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. These activities are responsible for most illegal fish on the market, some of the most destructive fishing practices in use, and a loss of as much as $23 billion in revenue for legal American fishermen.
The agreement builds on measures each side has already enacted, such as an American moratorium on driftnet fishing and European import processes that require seafood certification. Additionally, two bills currently in the Senate would ban mislabeling seafood and put government money to reducing seafood fraud.
News of the US-EU agreement comes on the heels of a new study recommending that industrial deep-sea fishing be banned. Many deep-sea fish, such as orange roughy and Chilean sea bass, have long lifespans and low birthrates that make them highly susceptible to overfishing. The study also cites the harmful effects of bottom-trawlers, which both wipe out entire local populations of the target fish species and bulldoze long-lived deep sea corals.
Oceana board member and renowned fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly told the Washington Post that the costs of deep-sea fishing far outweigh the benefits.
“It’s a waste of resources, it’s a waste of biodiversity, it’s a waste of everything,” Pauly said. “In the end, there is nothing left.”