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The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told fishermen this week that so-called “pirate” fishing is not just bad for fish stocks, but bad for legitimate fishermen’s financial health.

Speaking this week at the Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries conference in Washington, D.C., David Schorr, the head of WWF’s transparent seas project, said keeping illegally-caught seafood products out of the U.S. food supply is as urgent as any other major fishing issue.

“Pirate fishing is a serious but hidden problem that is taking money out of the pockets of honest American fishers,” Schorr said. “While illegal fishing is responsible for about 20 percent of wild fish catches worldwide, we still have no effective way to keep illegal fish products off U.S. shelves. Every fish that gets sold in the U.S. must be a legal and traceable one.”

Schorr called on the industry and the U.S. government to work together to encourage traceability in the seafood supply chain, denouncing critics who say tighter restrictions will hurt the industry.

“It is disappointing and frustrating when critics of strong fisheries management claim that U.S. policies put them at a competitive disadvantage in the international seafood market,” Schorr said. “The answer is not to lower U.S. standards, but to deny market access to the pirate fishers who operate outside the law.”

Schorr noted that efforts with organizations like the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation have helped the issue, but he said more work needs to be done.

“We can win the fight against pirate fishing if industry leaders, conservation experts, and governments pull together and agree to common-sense solutions,” Schorr said.

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