U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday, 27 June, 2022, issued a broad memorandum calling illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing a threat to American economic competitiveness and national security, the global fishing industry, and to the fight against climate change.
The announcement, though, left some advocates wanting more from the administration, particularly in terms of policies that still allow some fish harvested and processed by IUU means to enter U.S. ports. Biden’s proclamation coincided with the first day of the United Nations Ocean Conference, which runs through Friday, 1 July, in Lisbon, Portugal.
IUU fishing can include, but is not limited to, fishing in prohibited waters or with banned gear and ignoring catch limits. It also includes the use of forced labor.
“The United States is committed to promoting labor rights and human rights and fundamental freedoms through worker-centered trade policies and to working to eliminate abusive labor practices, in particular forced labor, in supply chains,” Biden said in the memo.
In conjunction with the memo, on Monday, 27 June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a proposed rule to address forced labor and other labor rights issues in the seafood industry that makes the official U.S. definition of IUU fishing consistent with that of the U.N. FAO. This proposal will allow U.S. officials to craft definitions that incorporate both the use of forced labor and comparable fishing laws between the U.S. and other nations, according to The Hill. The proposed changes are part of a rulemaking process that is open for public comment.
NOAA’s proposal broadens the scope of activities that can be considered under the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act when identifying nations as perpetrators of IUU fishing. In addition, fishing activities in waters beyond any national jurisdiction that involve the use of forced labor may be considered by NOAA in identifying nations as conducting IUU fishing, NOAA said in a press release.
“IUU fishing undermines sustainable fisheries and healthy ocean ecosystems, threatens economic security, and natural resources critical to global food security, and puts law-abiding fishers and seafood producers in the U.S. and abroad at a disadvantage,” Deputy NOAA Administrator Janet Coit said. “NOAA is committed to strengthening the suite of tools we use to combat all forms of IUU fishing and counter the use of forced labor in the seafood supply chain.”
NOAA is also aiming to expand the information foreign fishing vessels must submit when requesting entry into U.S. ports in order to fully implement the Port State Measures Agreement. The proposed rule enables a risk assessment of incoming vessels to determine if they have engaged in IUU fishing activities and to decide whether to deny a vessel entry to port.
“The efforts to combat IUU fishing activities and counter forced labor are complex and a broad range of governments and management organizations are involved,” NOAA Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Fisheries Kelly Kryc said. “As a major consumer, producer, and importer of seafood, the U.S. takes many steps to combat IUU fishing as a flag state, port state, market state, and in partnership with other agencies and countries around the world.”
Given the size of the oceans, IUU fishing can be hard to police, which is why no nation can address it by themselves, Biden said. Steps the U.S. intends to take include looking to work with Mexican and Canadian officials to ensure the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement keeps out any imports that are made with forced labor; strengthening maritime security in South and Southeast Asia by working in partnership with Australia, India, and Japan; and working with members of the European Union and Group of Seven nations to target harmful fishing practices in West Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and the Indo-Pacific.
On Tuesday in Lisbon, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Monica Medina announced a new partnership with Great Britain and Canada to combat IUU fishing.
“We're anxious to sign up more governments to be a part of this partnership. Illegal fishing is a global problem,” Medina said in a video statement. “We cannot solve it country by country. We have to do it together.”
Biden’s memo also calls on NOAA to begin the process of expanding the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) by the end of 2022. The U.S. launched SIMP six years ago to combat illegal fishing and fraud. It requires importers to provide documentation detailing how the fish was harvested and tracing how it got from the ocean to an American port of entry.
However, SIMP currently just applies to 13 species. Biden wants NOAA to “continuously expand coverage of the program, as appropriate.”
Still, Beth Lowell, the U.S. vice president of environmental nonprofit Oceana, said in a statement that directive “falls short” of what’s needed, especially since the U.S. imports 85 percent of the seafood Americans consume. She cited an International Trade Commission report that determined the U.S. accepted imports of USD 2.4 billion (EUR 2.28 billion) worth of illegal seafood in 2019.
“Until the United States holds all seafood imports to the same standards as U.S.-caught fish, illegally sourced seafood will continue to be sold alongside legal catch,” Lowell said. “Oceana looks forward to working with the Biden administration to implement this memorandum and building upon the progress announced today.”
Oceana is not alone in calling for a universal expansion of SIMP. Two U.S. lawmakers also want that and have put that in a bill they filed in 2021 to beef up the country’s enforcement against IUU fishing practices.
U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman (D-California) and Garret Graves (R-Louisiana) filed H.R. 3075, the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Act, last year. Some of the language from that bill has been incorporated into the America COMPETES Act and the Coast Guard Authorization bill.
Earlier this month, the two congressmen sent Biden a letter asking him to make a “strong statement” against IUU fishing in advance of the UN conference.
In a statement to SeafoodSource, Huffman echoed Oceana’s comments.
“As I join with world leaders at the U.N. Ocean Conference, I’m pleased to see President Joe Biden taking steps to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing that I’ve called for—but more needs to be done,” said Huffman, who chairs the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. “We must expand SIMP further so we can tackle this once and for all.”
Huffman said Biden's memo can't be the ending point for U.S. actions.
"[The memorandum] is a step in the right direction, and I hope it will be followed by more specific and bolder actions to ensure transparency and accountability in the seafood supply chain. I look forward to continuing to work with President Biden and his administration toward that end,” Huffman said.
An unnamed official in the Biden administration said the new effort was not targeted at any specific country. However, the official said the U.S. rated China as one of the world’s worst perpetrators of IUU fishing.
“The [People’s Republic of China] is a leading contributor to IUU fishing worldwide, and has impeded progress on the development of measures to combat IUU fishing and overfishing in international organizations,” the official said, according to the South China Morning Post. “The PRC has a responsibility to uphold these commitments as a flag state and actively monitor and correct … fishing fleet activities in other countries’ waters.”
Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for China’s embassy in Washington, denied the U.S. allegations in a statement.
“The U.S. accusation is completely untrue and does nothing to protect the marine environment and promote international cooperation in sustainable fishery,” Liu said.
Photo courtesy of Oscar Ivan Lopez/Shutterstock