Ending Illegal Fishing is Crucial to Ensure a Healthy Ocean

TrawlerBy Susan Jackson and Michele Kuruc

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry brought together some of the world’s leading thinkers to chart a path for securing the future of our planet’s oceans and the communities and economies they support. Leaders from more than 80 countries delved into the most pressing issues facing our oceans, including marine pollution, climate change and unsustainable fisheries.

While the discussions were vibrant, one of the biggest announcements was made by President Barack Obama as he announced a new initiative to address illegal fishing. Through a government-led strategy, federal agencies — along with industry, NGOs and other key stakeholders — will work together to build a framework that ensures seafood products can be traced from “bait to plate.” This is a critical step by the U.S. to combat illegally caught fish from reaching U.S. markets and ending up on dinner tables and on store shelves across the country.

One common theme that was presented throughout the “Our Ocean” conference was the role of cooperation and the need to work together, across governments, industry and with NGOs to address this shared problem.

To this end, some industry leaders are already rising to meet this challenge. Companies working with the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, for example, have all made public commitments to combat illegal fishing by establishing best practices for monitoring, control and surveillance in tuna fisheries. ISSF requires that all participating processors, traders, and importers refrain from transactions with vessels that are not flagged to a country that is participating in the Regional Fishery Management Organization, do not have a unique, permanent identification number issued by the International Maritime Organization, or that are not on an authorized vessel list from a Regional Fishery Management Organization.  These companies are voluntarily taking this conservation measure to a critical next step by withdrawing their tuna from the marketplace upon the discovery that the tuna originated with an IUU-listed vessel.

These companies are also engaged in ongoing work with scientists, vessel companies, and coastal and flag states, that includes trials of electronic observer systems and electronic captain’s logbooks aboard tuna purse seine and long-line vessels. These pilot programs are helping to develop new ways to monitor fishing efforts and creating a set of best practices that can be expanded and scaled up across the industry.

Tackling illegal fishing and the host of impacts associated with it is no small feat, but this week’s conference builds on the momentum generated in recent months. Countries like the United States are embracing global efforts like the Port State Measures Agreement to ensure that all fish landed are legally caught.

While governments, NGOs and industry are taking positive steps to address illegal fishing, it’s clear that more action is needed – across sectors – to tackle this global challenge. More needs to be done by flag states to monitor and control the fishing vessels operating under their flags; by port states to ensure the products landed and traded through their ports are legal; and by market states to ensure that the products sold are of a legal origin. This means new measures and regulations for improved monitoring and enforcement to catch documentation, import controls and traceability.

The announcements by President Obama and the commitments made by the State Department are the type of actions, when taken in concert with continued strong commitments across sectors and nations, that will go a long way to ensuring the continued sustainability of global fisheries and food security.

Image courtesy of the World Wildlife Fund

Susan Jackson is President of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation and Michele Kuruc is Vice President for Marine Conservation for World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Image credit: © Peter Chadwick / WWF-Canon.

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