NMFS holds first IUU fishing public hearing
On Monday, the National Marine Fisheries Service held a press conference with Dr. Rebecca Lent, director of NMFS Office of International Affairs, to discuss a new NMFS rule to identify nations with vessels engaged in illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing or bycatch of protected living marine resources (PLMRs).
"We made a huge effort to distribute information internationally about this new legislation, so it would be difficult for a nation to say, 'I was totally surprised by this,'" Lent said.
So far, NMFS has identified six countries that aren't doing enough to prevent IUU fishing: China, France, Italy, Libya, Panama and Tunisia. "Consultations are underway and the nations and RFMOs have been notified," Lent said.
After IUU-identified countries are notified by the U.S. government, they go through a certification process by the U.S. Commerce Secretary. "We are required to certify when sufficient action has been taken and provide either positive or negative certification," Lent said.
"To get a positive certification, the nation and/or RFMO has to take appropriate steps to put new measures in place.""To get a positive certification once a nation is identified for bycatch, Congress has said the nation should be using comparable measures, including circle hooks," Lent added. "If the nation is negatively certified, the fishing vessel(s) flagged are not allowed to offload fish in U.S. ports and the Commerce secretary and president can ban products from that nation."
While Lent identified the challenges of the time frame involved in identifying and certifying nations and the need to obtain individual vessel information, the public also voiced their concerns.
Richard Ruais, executive director of Blue Water Fisherman's Association and East Coast Tuna Association, cited the need for stricter IUU sanctions and certification procedures. "Having a non-level playing field is one reason why [the U.S. tuna industry is] dying, so we urge speeding up the notification process and imposing trade sanctions," Ruais said. "When [NMFS] asks for data on bycatch and there is no answer from a government, we'd like to see that by default you are not approved for certification."
Ruais also expressed concern over the amount of time involved in the identification and certification process. "When you get to the final certification step, hopefully it's not another two years after identification is complete."
Other public comments focused on the European Union's ability to sanction and regulate IUU activity, investigation into violations of ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) regulations and the need to get the industry ready for the [NMFS'] IUU identification and certification deadlines in 2010 and 2011.