Illegal Fishing Is Even Darker Than It Seems

2018-04-30T15:27:00+00:00 April 30, 2018|
(Credit: U.S. Coast Guard)

(Credit: U.S. Coast Guard)

What It Was

The Oceans Caucus Foundation Congressional briefing titled, “Illegal Fishing And Links To Global Human Trafficking Networks.” This was the second in their national security series, which highlights the ocean’s role in economy, safety, and food securities.

Why It Matters

Around the world, nations (including the United States) rely on the ocean for food and livelihoods. Seafood is an important protein across the globe, and while the U.S. has a large commercial fishery, we import 90 percent of our seafood from other countries. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing can make its way into the U.S. consumer market.

Key Points

Unlike terrestrial food products, knowing where seafood comes from is difficult. This is partially due to the ocean’s size, complex supply chains, international law inconsistencies, limited regulations on catch documentation, and limited enforcement.

IUU fishing occurs across the globe and often includes other illicit acts, including human trafficking, kidnapping, slavery, or drug smuggling. Experts reported these practices are unknowingly supported by the U.S. when importing seafood with relaxed reporting requirements. Ms. Shannon Service (Film Director, Ghost Fleet) highlighted Thailand’s role as the second largest seafood supplier for the U.S. and one of the worst offenders for illegal fishing and human trafficking.

“Traceability” is the process of documenting where a fish was caught and including that information through the entire supply chain. This practice can increase transparency and accountability and can provide consumers with the necessary information to make informed choices in their purchases. Knowing how a fish traveled from hook to plate can reduce IUU fishing. Scientific and technological advances, including GPS, satellites, and DNA barcoding are aiding in this effort.

Currently, traceability is required only for 13 species in the U.S., but experts hope that number will increase. Dr. Sarah Glaser (Associate Director, Secure Fisheries) recommended consumers use the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch® (available online and as a mobile phone application), a scientific scoring system that evaluates the sustainability of seafood (including illegal fishing and human rights), stating, “Congress should think about how they can help ensure American consumers don’t drive this problem.”


“When illegal fishing is found onboard there is often other illegal practices occurring.” – Dr. Bama Athreya, Specialist, Labor And Employment Rights, USAID

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership