ELLSWORTH — Although there has been little evidence in recent years that Congress is capable of accomplishing much in the way of passing legislation, President Barack Obama last week signed a new law aimed at preventing illegally harvested fish from entering the United States and supporting efforts to establish sustainable fisheries worldwide.
The bipartisan Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUU) Enforcement Act includes a number of provisions blocking imports of illegally harvested fish. The United States will now join a global effort to ratify and implement the Port State Measures Agreement, which will prevent vessels carrying fish caught illegally from entering U.S. ports.
Implementation of the agreement was the first recommendation of the IUU Action Plan, released last March by a presidential task force including representatives from the departments of Commerce and State.
“Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing undermines both the economic and environmental sustainability of our nation’s fisheries,” Kathryn Sullivan, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, said in a statement announcing the signing. “Combating IUU fishing and seafood fraud is critical to sustaining the resilience of our global ocean fisheries, to leveling the playing field for the United States fishing and seafood industries, and to protecting the United States’ reputation as a leader in sustainable seafood.”
The United States now joins 13 other nations that have already ratified the port management agreement, which will become legally binding once at least 25 countries have ratified it.
“We lose billions of dollars globally each year to IUU fishing, which is often associated with other illegal activities such as human trafficking,” Catherine Novelli, undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy, and the environment, said in a published statement.
The United States has already implemented most of the measures outlined in the international agreement domestically. The formal ratification provides additional leverage to encourage ratification and adoption of these measures by other countries so that it will apply to ports around the world.
The task force also recommended strengthening domestic enforcement authorities to address illegal fish and fish products that have already entered the U.S. supply chain.
Currently, fisheries law focuses on at-sea or dockside enforcement of domestic fishing operations and does not provide the tools needed to address imported seafood and fishing violations. These are significant gaps in federal powers that prevent agencies from monitoring all of the seafood supply chain.