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U.S. Role In Combating IUU Fishing Overview


The United States is a global leader in sustainable seafood and is committed to preventing illegally harvested or fraudulently marketed fish from entering the global stream of commerce. As a result of sound science, strong management programs, and enforcement controls the United States has successfully reduced domestic overfishing to its lowest level in decades and rebuilt a record number of historically depleted domestic stocks. IUU fishing undermine these efforts.

U.S. Fisheries Has a Strong Data Collection Framework

The United States’ greatest asset in fighting domestic IUU fishing and seafood fraud is the vast amount of data collected across our U.S. fisheries under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), as well as regulations passed through the regional fishery management councils and regulations promulgated by interstate commissions and states agencies. Data collection requirements begin with the permitting of harvesters and dealers, providing the foundational information to cross-reference all other subsequent data collected. Permits are required for almost any person who will sell or purchase fish or fish products harvested from U.S. waters from the vessel, or who will sell such fish. Permitting requirements vary by fishery, but at a minimum they include the permit holder’s name and contact information along with vessel identification information (e.g., name and registration/USCG documentation/IMO Number) and authorized activity. These permits establish the framework for data collection for covered species. 

Identification of Foreign Vessels Engaged in IUU

The MSA also provides tools for combating IUU fishing conducted by non-U.S. flagged fleets. Among other things, this process focuses on the actions that foreign governments take to ensure that vessels flying their flag do not violate sustainable management measures adopted by various regional fisheries management organizations. Foreign governments that are found to have vessels engaged in such activities may be identified in a biennial report to Congress as having vessels engaged in IUU fishing. Countries may also be identified for having vessels that fish illegally in U.S. waters or for overfishing of stocks shared with the United States (with adverse impacts on such stocks), in areas without applicable international measures or management organizations. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) will engage in consultations with these newly identified nations to press for corrective action. If sufficient action is not taken, prohibitions on the importation of certain fisheries products into the United States and the denial of port privileges for fishing vessels of that nation may be levied.

U.S. Manages Largest Vessel Monitoring System

While at sea, permitted domestic commercial fishing vessels are often required to have operational Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) on board to track their location and movement in the U.S. EEZ and treaty waters. The U.S. VMS program currently monitors more than 4,000 vessels and is the largest national VMS program in the world. Permitted domestic commercial harvesters can also be required to submit a vessel trip report (VTR) for each fishing trip prior to landing. The VTR provides a detailed report of the vessel’s fishing activity, including trip duration, location of fishing activity, gear used, catch harvested, catch composition (species and weight for both landed and discarded fish), and identity of who is purchasing the landed catch. This information can be verified by enforcement or by on-board and/or portside monitoring programs where used. At the point of sale, or entry into U.S. commerce, permitted dealers are often required to submit purchase records. These records can include species data that can be cross-referenced with landing records provided by the vessel. These data are collected, managed, and shared on the national, regional, and local level by NOAA Fisheries; the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistical Program  and the Pacific Fisheries Information Network , which are cooperative state-federal programs that design and implement marine fisheries statistics data collection and integrate those data into a single data management system; state agencies; and other partners.

As a result of the data collection programs in place for U.S. fleets, domestic fishery activities are of less concern relative to seafood fraud, though problems with species substitutions exist at the retail level in grocery stores and restaurants and could occur when U.S. product is processed overseas. Domestic fish and fishery products harvested under a federal fisheries management plan have low incidences of species substitution. Similarly, state-managed fisheries have a high incidence of compliance, though product traceability is more difficult as a result of information delays and the large number of separate systems in place.

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