US defense bill addresses IUU fishing domestically and abroad

Published on
December 17, 2019

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which funds the U.S. military for the 2020 fiscal year, includes provisions to combat illicit fishing and increase transparency in the seafood industry.

The bill's fate had been in jeopardy because of questions over whether it would curtail President Donald Trump's authority to spend defense money on the proposed border wall. Congressional negotiators kicked those negotiations down the road, and on Wednesday, 11 December, the House overwhelmingly passed the bill; bipartisan approval is expected to push it through the Senate, too.

Officially, the USD 738 billion (EUR 664 billion) bill incorporates the Maritime SAFE Act, which was originally sponsored by Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) and Senator Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi). That bipartisan bill addressed illegal fishing and its implications for food security, the economy, and the environment. It recognized how combating illegal fishing requires full traceability in the seafood supply chain.

The Stimson Center, a nonpartisan policy research center, had recommended that the U.S. government address illegal fishing and its security implications.

“Illegal fishing networks are closely linked to national security threats including transnational crime, human and drug trafficking, and piracy,” Sally Yozell, the director of the Stimson Center's Environmental Security Program, said. “It undermines the economic and food security of coastal communities across the globe and hurts honest fishers who follow the rules.”

The NDAA increases U.S. cooperation with other countries on monitoring and enforcement, while helping prevent illegally caught fish from entering the market by increasing traceability and transparency in the seafood supply chain. The act will also improve coordination across government agencies by establishing an interagency working group that will focus on seafood fraud and illegal fishing.

“We cannot let illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing jeopardize the livelihoods of America’s honest fishermen or fund other criminal activities," Wicker said in a statement when he and Coons reintroduced the Maritime SAFE Act in May.

"IUU fishing is an issue that not only poses a serious threat to our own national security, but also contributes to instability in regions important to United States interests," Coons added.

Illegal fishing threatens food security in local fishing communities, raising the odds that conflict will erupt in affect countries, according to the Stimson Center. In 2018, the Stimson Center published a detailed report recommending how the U.S. government and partners could curb IUU fishing impacts domestically and around the world. The report recommended that countries ratify the Port State Measures Agreement, mandate the use of vessel tracking systems, and implement comprehensive catch reporting requirements and fisheries regulations, among other policies.

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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