Two U.S. lawmakers pushing the federal government to take broader action against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing are asking U.S. President Joe Biden to take action ahead of a key international conference.
U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-California) and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-Louisiana) sent the letter on 2 June, 2022, saying the country has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership in the fight against IUU ahead of the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, which starts on 27 June. The conference – as well as June being World Oceans Month – presents an opportunity for the U.S. to make a “strong statement,” they said in the three-page letter.
The two congressmen are the key sponsors for H.R. 3075, the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Act, which they introduced last year. Portions of that bill have been included in the America COMPETES Act and the Coast Guard reauthorization bills. Both pieces of legislation have passed the House of Representatives, and are currently in the U.S. Senate.
While there are significant concerns about illegal fishing’s impact on fish stocks and the environment in general, Huffman and Graves noted in their letter that illegal fishing practices also lead to human rights abuses.
“Lack of oversight and enforcement in the global seafood sector has fostered human rights and labor abuses at sea, where crew members remain on vessels for long periods of time, subjected to debt bondage, inhumane working conditions and are forced to endure severe abuse,” they wrote. “Forced labor is also found in seafood processing facilities in a number of countries.”
Among the steps Huffman and Graves want the U.S. to take are the expansion of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program to cover all species imported to the U.S., and require certain sized vessels to install automatic identification systems in the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Stamping out illegal fishing, they said, will “level the playing field” for U.S. fishermen.
In the meantime, they want the Biden Administration “to focus on the theme” of the U.N. conference, which is increasing action to protect the oceans “based on science and innovation” toward the goal of preserving sustainable use and development.
“The U.N. Ocean Conference provides a unique opportunity for the United States – as a leader on ocean and human rights issues, as well as the world’s largest seafood importer – to invigorate our leadership on these critical issues and encourage other nations to take a strong stance as well,” the letter states. “We encourage you to make a strong announcement related to IUU fishing ahead of the U.N. Ocean Conference, similar to the announcement at the first Our Ocean Conference in 2014 of the Presidential Task Force Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud. The activities of the task force resulted in significant progress, but much work remains to be done.”
The first U.N. Ocean Conference was held in 2017. A follow-up in 2020 was canceled due to the pandemic. This year’s event is expected to bring thousands of scientists and other stakeholders together to focus on improving the health of the ocean.
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons