Protecting The Fish And The Fishers

2019-11-19T08:54:45+00:00 November 18, 2019|

(Credit: Pedro Ramirez/USFWS)

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What It Was

The House committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife held a hearing titled “Oversight of NOAA’s Report on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing.”

Why It Matters

The United States is a global leader in sustainable fisheries management, successfully reducing domestic overfishing and rebuilding historically depleted stocks since the Magnuson–Stevens Act was enacted in 1976. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates 90 percent by value of consumed seafood is imported, with as much as one-third of imports estimated to have been harvested through illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices. IUU fishing undermines conservation and management measures, legitimate seafood market costs, and consumer confidence in seafood products. NOAA is working to combat IUU activities in part through the 2019 Improving International Fisheries Management Report to Congress as mandated by the Moratorium Protection Act.

Key Points

NOAA’s mandated, biennial report identifies nations engaging in IUU activities and describes NOAA’s work to consult with them on corrective actions and the agency’s ensuing positive or negative certification. During this oversight hearing of the report released in September, discussion centered around potential improvement of NOAA’s reporting process, actions the federal government can take to combat IUU fishing, and the scope of NOAA’s involvement in related issues.

Chairman Jared Huffman (CA-2) indicated a key concern with the agency’s process is the narrowness of their definition of IUU fishing. He suggested adopting the internationally agreed upon definition, allowing for official inclusion of more countries that are not currently identified in NOAA’s report but are known for unsustainable practices.

Broadening the definition would allow NOAA to identify those guilty of human rights abuses, which has typically been beyond its scope and Ms. Alexa Cole (Acting Director of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection, NOAA Fisheries) expressed openness to future changes   . Ranking Member Tom McClintock (CA-4) and Mr. John P. Connelly (President, National Fisheries Institute) stated that they consider human rights concerns beyond NOAA’s purview due to the numerous other agencies addressing the topic. However, other witnesses and committee members stressed that NOAA must get involved because of its position in the supply chain, its ability to collect relevant data, and the fact that the United States is not shielded from these issues due to its reliance on imported seafood. Ms. Ame Sagiv (Senior Manager, Humanity United) and Mr. Ian Urbina (Author of “The Outlaw Ocean” and Investigative Journalist) argued that environmental and labor abuses in the seafood industry mutually enable and reinforce each other and explained that growing demand has only further incentivized production of cheap seafood at the cost of human rights.

Discussion turned to possible action to advance information sharing and enforcement capacity. Ms. Cole elaborated on how NOAA spreads U.S. fisheries management standards by working with many national and international entities. She described how pressure from multilateral organizations, such as RFMOs, can help bring corrective action to countries violating fishing agreements and cited South Korea’s success in expanding use of vessel monitoring systems on distant water vessels and engaging more productively in multilateral organizations after being identified in a past NOAA report. Witnesses and members also brought up NOAA’s ability to be a subject matter expert in helping other sectors, with Mr. Nathaniel Rickard (Trade Counsel, Southern Shrimp Alliance) explaining how U.S. Customs and Border Protection relies on NOAA’s expertise to recognize IUU fishing products.

However, Ranking Member McClintock and Mr. Connelly argued that anything more than fisheries management and identification of problem countries would be beyond the scope of NOAA’s duties and place an undue burden on U.S. fishing enterprise. They disagreed with others in the room on the value of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), started in 2018, which requires reporting imports of fish and fish products identified as vulnerable to IUU activity. While they described the extensive record-keeping required as a financial burden on honest fishers, proponents for SIMP highlighted how it has already improved traceability and will only continue to do so with more data. Because seafood supply chains are highly distributed, Ms. Sagiv argued that action must be taken at all levels of the supply chain. She and other witnesses recommended continued involvement of NOAA, expansion of IUU definitions (including indicators of forced labor and human trafficking), and growth of SIMP.


“The oceans are truly the final frontier, the wild west of our planet you might say. The remoteness of the open ocean combined with the limited data and the monitoring of fishing vessels and a lack of law enforcement capabilities create a perfect storm for illegal activity.” — Chairman Jared Huffman (CA-2)

“These types of fishing activities undermine management efforts and the efforts of responsible fishermen which is why Congress has passed several bills that have increased our engagement on these issues.” — Ranking Member Tom McClintock (CA-4)

“We have an opportunity to move these issues forward, towards better practice for people and planet. When we sit down to eat, we cannot forget the millions of workers like Soe who catch and produce our food. We cannot simply brush off the suffering in our supply chains; we can take this as an opening to act to help protect our food supply, not just from IUU fishing but from forced labor — a practice that is also illegal, unreported, and unregulated.” — Ms. Ame Sagiv (Senior Manager, Investments, Humanity United)

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