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.
The legislation, authored by Representative Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), would strengthen the United States’ ability to fight the serious global problem of IUU fishing, also known as pirate fishing, which threatens our oceans, honest fishermen, and seafood consumers worldwide. The bill is a companion to legislation in the Senate (S. 269), which passed the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in July 2013. We applaud Congress for moving this important legislation to fight pirate fishing and help keep illegally-caught seafood out of the U.S. market.
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. Recent estimates suggest that pirate fishing results in global economic losses of between $10 to 23 billion each year and accounts for as much as 40 percent of the catch in certain fisheries. Pirate fishing has also been associated with other illegal activities, such as human trafficking and organized crime. As the largest single-country seafood importer in the world, the United States has a responsibility to combat these serious problems.
H.R. 69 would provide the United States with critical tools to do just that. The bill includes measures to improve monitoring and tracking of pirate fishing vessels, expand authority to inspect facilities and records related to vessels suspected of engaging in pirate fishing, strengthen penalties against those who violate international fisheries laws, and assist developing countries combat pirate fishing occurring in their waters. These tools will help put law-abiding fishermen on a level playing field, protect endangered or threatened species from further depletion, and keep illegal seafood out of the U.S. market.
Congressional action comes at an opportune time, as the President’s Task Force Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud is currently considering how federal agencies can best address these problems. While the legislation can help address enforcement against fishing activities, the Task Force can help ensure that our markets stay closed to illegally-sourced seafood. To do so, the Task Force must recommend mandatory seafood traceability for all seafood sold in the United States, verifiable catch documentation to ensure that the fish originated from legal sources, and better source information about a seafood product at the end point of sale so consumers can make more informed buying decisions.
Congress and the Administration must work together to craft comprehensive solutions to the problems of pirate fishing and seafood fraud. Passage of the legislation, combined with strong recommendations from the Task Force, is the best way to close our market to illegally-caught fish and ensure that all seafood sold in the United States is safe, legally caught, and honestly labeled.