Its fancy name is “illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” but call it what it is — pirate fishing. The good news, however, is that President Obama has signed a bipartisan bill to tackle the problem that impacts all anglers, recreational or commercial.
The “Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015” (IUU) strengthens international fisheries by aiming to stop vessels suspected of fishing illegally from selling their catch in U.S. markets. Specifically, the legislation implements the international Port State Measures Agreement, an important 2009 treaty that requires signatory nations to deny entry and services to any ships that have fished illegally and, most importantly, to share information about those vessels with international partners.
The implications of the IUU cut across fishing interests. For recreational anglers, the move to decrease pirate fishing can lead to healthier and more plentiful fish stocks and, it follows, less need for sudden and often unjustified closures to recreational anglers by National Marine Fisheries.
On the commercial side, the United States is a big fish importer and has applicable regulations to sustain fisheries, albeit recreational anglers rightfully continue to call for a more scientific approach to fish management.
That said, there’s no question global illegal fishing activities force U.S. commercial fishermen to compete on an uneven playing field. If nothing else, the IUU could help combat overfishing around the world and provides for much-needed stiffer enforcement against those who break the law.
Illegal and unreported fishing alone accounts for catches worth as much as $23.5 billion annually or, it is estimated, up to 26 million tons of fish. Further, it’s believed illegal catches constitute about 20 percent of all the seafood we import in the United States. And consumers are often defrauded by intentional mislabeling of seafood in the marketplace.
The IUU will help federal prosecution of pirate fishing. Moreover, it’s another positive move for overall fishing. For example, it goes hand-in-hand with increased efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard to intercept illegal fishing boats in U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico where Mexican fishing vessels have been illegally slipping in and out of U.S. waters.
Regardless of whether or not you think our U.S. fisheries management is getting the job done well, pirate fishing clearly undermines all efforts for sustainable fisheries management. This is particularly true on the open seas — waters beyond the jurisdiction of coastal states — and it has substantial social and economic ramifications. The marine industry stands for credible management of our fisheries and the IUU should be applauded as a step in the right direction.
The IUU bill was introduced by Reps. Madeleine Z. Bordallo, D-Guam, in the House and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in the Senate.